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  • Supervisors approve asylum shelter agreement with Catholic Community Services

    Jul 23, 2019 | Read More News
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    The Pima County Board of Supervisors July 22 voted 3-2 to enter into a cooperative agreement with Catholic Community Services to provide shelter services to asylum seekers released in Tucson by the Department of Homeland Security. The charity and other faith organizations will provide respite services and travel assistance to the asylum seekers in an unused section of the county’s Juvenile Justice Complex, 2225 E. Ajo Way. 

    The agreement is for one year with renewal options every year thereafter for four years. As part of the agreement, the county will renovate three wings of the facility to make it appropriate for shelter use, including separating it from the juvenile justice facility so that the shelter can operate independently of the remainder of the complex, which includes the Juvenile Court, counseling, education and diversion programs, and juvenile detention. The agreement can be dissolved by either party with 30-days notice. If the agreement is County juvenile facilityterminated, or the need for the county facility ends or is supplanted with an alternate facility, the county will make the renovated facility available for use as an emergency shelter. 

    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 make the facility available to CCS for use as a shelter. Pima County and the city of Tucson have been part of a broad community coalition searching for a new location for the respite center for the past few months. For the past seven months, Catholic Community Services and a host of volunteers from numerous faith groups have 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. 

    Numerous facilities were 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 terms for at least one year
    • A central location with proximity to the airport and bus station
    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 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 16,000 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. 

    The county will now proceed with renovations and CCS is expected to begin operations in early August. The county has applied for three separate grants from the federal government for reimbursement of humanitarian aid costs for operating the facility. 

    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 have been vacant or repurposed into counseling and education centers for juvenile offenders.