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Deal is reached to fund Homeland Security Department, Arizona monitors its progress

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

House Republican leaders announced a deal with the White House this week on funding for border security. Congress has until Friday to pass it and other spending bills to avoid a government shutdown. The Homeland Security bill is being watched particularly closely in Arizona, where the Border Patrol unit based in southern Arizona has seen a record number of migrant crossings since June. Danyelle Khmara with Arizona Public Media has this report.

(CROSSTALK)

DANYELLE KHMARA, BYLINE: About a month ago, Ronald and Betty fled warring gangs and widespread violence in their home country of Ecuador. They asked we only use their first names for fear of repercussions. The couple crossed the U.S. border south of Tucson, asked for asylum, and Border Patrol brought them here, to Casa Alitas, a shelter and migrant assistance center that's received tens of millions of federal dollars since 2019.

RONALD: (Speaking Spanish).

KHMARA: Ronald says that, at Casa Alitas, they inform them on how to get a flight to where they're going. They tell them everything they need to know. And most importantly, they give them a place to stay and food, which is important because people arrive with nothing after going through so much. Casa Alitas will have to close down most of its operations if Congress doesn't pass the Homeland Security funding bill - this at a time when U.S. border officials in the Tucson sector have encountered more than 300,000 people in the last six months. More than half have passed through Casa Alitas, many of them asylum-seekers like Ronald and Betty. For many here, this is the first moment of calm after a long and dangerous journey.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KHMARA: More than half of those who've come through are families. People line up for breakfast in the main hall. It's lined with cots where people leave their things - a small backpack, a Red Cross blanket, a well-loved stuffed animal. Diego Pina Lopez, who manages the shelter, says if migrants can't come here, border officials will release them on the streets of small border towns or at the bus station in Tucson - hundreds every day.

DIEGO PINA LOPEZ: So that's, like, 800 people there. Or half of those could be dropped off in Nogales and a quarter or an eighth could be in Douglas.

KHMARA: Tucson Mayor Regina Romero doesn't take it for granted organizations like Casa Alitas will get more funding before there are street releases. She says Tucson and border communities will need help if that happens.

REGINA ROMERO: None of these towns and cities have the capacity to be able to deal with it alone. So we are in communication with the governor's office to help Arizona cities and towns to deal with the logistics of this.

KHMARA: It costs a million dollars a week to run Casa Alitas, and their current federal funding runs out at the end of the month. They've already begun canceling contracts for services. Shelter manager Diego Pina Lopez says that even if Congress approves more funding this week, it could still take time to receive it and ramp services back up. He says this isn't the first time Casa Alitas has faced a funding cliff, but he's never seen Congress get this close to the bitter end. But he says he still believes in this country and what it stands for.

LOPEZ: From the Statue of Liberty to the southern border to coast to coast, I think we're good people. And I know the people coming through Alitas are good and great people.

KHMARA: For now, Casa Alitas is asking the local community for donations in order to keep offering services to the most vulnerable asylum-seekers.

For NPR News, I'm Danyelle Khmara in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Danyelle Khmara

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