Gila Bend calls 'state of emergency' over migrant arrivals

A small town in Arizona has declared a state of emergency over the number of migrants who have been dropped off in Gila Bend, located 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mayor Chris Riggs made the declaration on March 23, saying the town does not have the resources or funds to support migrants, many who arrive with hopes of seeking asylum and making their home in America.

Gila Bend, with a population of 2,000, does not have a hospital or shelter. It is about 60 miles (95 kilometers) southwest of Phoenix.

The mayor's declaration came after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on March 22 dropped off 16 people, including young children, at a park in town. The group included six families, five from Venezuela and one from Chile.

"To drop people in basically the middle of nowhere, it’s 30 miles to the next type of town, and that’s 30 miles of open desert. So especially come July and August, we’re going to be finding bodies," Riggs said.

Federal officials provided less than three hour's notice before dropping off the latest migrant group, Riggs said, noting that he and his wife had to drive the families in loaned vans to a shelter in Phoenix arranged by U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema was unable to find transportation for them.

Riggs said he hopes the declaration sends a message to the state and Maricopa County that Gila Bend needs help.

"I want to get Maricopa County to provide me, from the department of health services, with personnel and testing resources so that I can test these people," Riggs said. He also said he wants the state, through the National Guard, to help the town with transportation if non-government organizations are not available.

In the border city of Nogales, three hours south, Mayor Arturo Garino has said there has been no increase in asylum seekers but that he shares the concerns of mayors of other border cities that if it does happen, the city would not have funds to deal with the situation.

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