The Gov. defended Katie Hobbs on Tuesday decided to continue Arizona’s controversial program of transporting asylum seekers from the southern border across state lines, and the state may soon cover the cost of individual plane tickets for those migrants.
While Hobbs criticized the program under her Republican predecessor, she now seeks to expand it by providing more travel options for migrants, citing humanitarian concerns and cost efficiency as the main reasons for doing so.
“We wanted to make sure we were addressing this issue and, as I talked about many times in the campaign, in a way that made the best use of taxpayer resources and that wasn’t a political stunt,” Hobbs said. i. exclusive interview with the Arizona Republic on Tuesday.
“We wanted to make sure that we were transporting these people in a way that was efficient and humane, and that really gave relief to the communities on the border that have an influx of these asylum seekers and that the they have resources to help them. .”
Hobbs surprised some when she said last week that the program had merit and that the state would begin transporting asylum seekers on buses and airplanes.
No air travel was scheduled, but three buses carrying 102 people have left Arizona so far under Hobbs’ tenure, according to the Governor’s Office.
His administration announced an updated contract on January 14 that allowed air travel by chartered 737 aircraft, and ended a requirement that buses travel only to Washington, DC, as was Arizona’s practice under Gov. Doug Ducey. The Arizona program is overseen by the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs in conjunction with the Regional Border Health Center, a Somerton-based nonprofit that assists migrant communities.
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Many questions remain unanswered and changes are underway. A spokesman for the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs referred questions from the Republic to the Governor’s Office.
The updated treaty swaps references to asylum seekers and replaces the term with “immigrant,” which is defined as someone who crosses the border to “seek asylum or otherwise immigrate to the United States.” Josselyn Berry, the governor’s spokeswoman, said that does not change eligibility. It is not clear how chartered flights would get asylum seekers to their destination, and whether the state is covering the full cost of transportation.
In an interview, Hobbs said most asylum seekers have money to cover the cost of transportation. Asked why the state would pay for travel if that were the case, Hobbs replied: “That’s a good question.”
The answer, according to Hobbs spokesman Murphy Hebert, is that Republican lawmakers earmarked $15 million in funding for the program last year. It was unclear Tuesday how much of that has already been spent, but a bus cost $82,000 per trip under the Ducey administration. In total, 3,177 people were transported on 89 buses during Ducey’s tenure, according to figures released by the Governor’s Office. That cost over $7 million.
By continuing the program, Hobbs appears to be aligned with Republican governors Gregg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida, whose similar efforts have drawn sharp criticism from members of Hobbs’ own party, including from the House White. Those governors also sent migrants to cities like New York.
But Hobbs points to a key difference in her approach.
“They are accused of human trafficking,” Hobbs said. “We are interested in focusing on the humanitarian aspects of this and just putting people on a bus as a political stunt and sending them to Martha’s Vineyard or wherever they went that is not providing any help or any solution to the actual issue. refocused on how we provide support and assistance in these communities and for these people who are legitimate asylum seekers.”
Hobbs’ aides have said that flights could allow the state to deal with an influx of asylum seekers, and could cost less because the journey is shorter — hours versus days — and requires fewer other expenses. such as meals and medical support.
Republican lawmakers mixed on changes
Hobbs’ changes drew a mixed reception, and even more questions, from conservatives in the Arizona Legislature.
Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, supported Ducey’s program as a way to draw attention to border security issues in Washington, DC
“Gov. Ducey was being sent to DC to show the federal government what is happening at our border,” Gowan said. “That’s a big difference to say, ‘Hey, where do you want to go? Where’s your destiny? Let me get you a ticket to that.'”
Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, supported Hobbs’ changes, noting the limited resources of small towns on the state’s southern border.
“I applaud the fact that she is going to continue to move these people to other destinations that can be better equipped to handle their humanitarian needs,” he said.
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