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  • County to lease facility to charitable organization aiding asylum seekers

    Jul 08, 2019 | Read More News
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    juvenile facilityPima County has tentatively agreed to lease an unused section of the county’s Juvenile Justice facility, 2225 E. Ajo Way, so that Catholic Community Services and other charitable organizations can continue to provide aid to asylum seekers deposited in Tucson by the federal government. 

    The Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Tucson, in a July 3 letter to County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, formally asked the county to lease the facility to CCS as a respite and travel processing center. The County Administrator has given county staff approval to begin drafting a lease and preparing the vacant facility for use. He also notified the Board of Supervisors of the Bishop’s request, noting that CCS needs to begin operating the facility before the next scheduled Board meeting Aug. 6. The board must vote on the lease before it can be executed. 

    Pima County and the city of Tucson have been part of a community coalition searching for a new location for the respite center for the past two months. For nearly a year, Catholic Community Services has been aiding the asylum seekers at the Benedictine Monastery, 800 N. Country Club Road. The owner of the Monastery is redeveloping it and requires CCS to vacate the building by July 26. 

    Thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom are from Central America, have been requesting asylum at the Mexican border since last year. Under federal law, anyone applying for asylum may remain in the United States while their application is under review. As a result, the Department of Homeland Security, after briefly processing the asylum seekers at DHS border facilities, has been releasing them in numerous cities near the border, including Tucson and Phoenix. Catholic Community Services and other community partners have provided aid to nearly 10,000 people since the fall of 2018. 

    CCS and other mostly faith-based organizations in the county have taken the lead on providing aid to these desperate people, primarily by offering them a place of respite where they can spend a day or two recovering from their arduous journey and then helping them arrange transportation to other parts of the United States where they have family or sponsors. Very few of the asylum seekers stay in Tucson; most are traveling to cities east of Texas and only remain at the respite center for two or three days. 

    More than a dozen facilities have been reviewed as possible replacement locations but only the county’s juvenile facility met the criteria set by the diocese and CSS: 
    • Large enough to provide safe, sanitary overnight quarters for at least 200 people with the potential to increase to 300 people assisted on a daily basis. 
    • Capacity for at least 50 volunteers to provide humanitarian aid and travel processing 
    • Immediately available and in good condition
    • Affordable leasing terms for at least one year
    • A central location with proximity to the airport and bus station
    The county’s juvenile justice system changed the way it deals with juvenile offenders shortly after the new juvenile complex was constructed in 2000. Diversion programs have been more effective at reducing recidivism than incarceration. As a result, several sections of the juvenile detention facility that is connected the Juvenile Court have been vacant or repurposed into counseling and education centers for juvenile offenders. 

    The presiding judges of the Pima County Superior and Juvenile courts are reviewing the county’s plans for repurposing the section of the juvenile facility but have stated that, based on preliminary information, the use of the unused section by CCS will not have an effect on the overall operation of the juvenile justice facility. 

    Catholic Community Services, with the county’s assistance, will modify the leased section so that it is a warm and welcoming place of refuge where its temporary residents will be treated with respect and dignity. 

    “We join with our other Christian, Jewish and Muslim brethren as we practice the call of our faiths to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and welcome to the stranger. This opportunity to be part of Tucson’s greater community, faith communities, and government agencies to meet the needs of those who come to us in the midst of what is for many a life-or-death crisis is one we hope you will answer with an unambiguous and generous yes,” Bishop Weisenburger wrote in his letter.