Hobbs: Title 42 response will depend on ‘need … on the ground’

Katie Hobbs, Joe Biden, border, Title 42, immigration

Hobbs: Title 42 response will depend on ‘need … on the ground’

Katie Hobbs, Joe Biden, border, Title 42, immigration

Gov. Katie Hobbs outlines her proposals Monday for the state to deal with an anticipated crush of migrants after Thursday when Title 42 ends. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

With changes to federal immigration policy set for this week, Gov. Katie Hobbs outlined her administration’s “approach” to managing a potential increase in migrant arrivals in Arizona. 

But at a Monday morning news conference the governor didn’t point to any new actions or policies she’s implementing in response to the end of a federal policy that’s allowed border agents to quickly send unauthorized migrants back across the border to Mexico without formal immigration proceedings. 

“The state of Arizona stands ready to assist our border communities and NGOs in any way that we can,” Hobbs said at the May 8 conference. Christian Slater, a spokesman for the governor, said the office is allocating $7 million to new border efforts and could put more money towards its response. 

Mainly, the message was: wait and see. 

“We don’t know the numbers, we don’t know what the need is actually going to be … so we are going to respond to the need that is on the ground,” Hobbs said. 

The federal government’s use of Title 42, a public health rule first implemented during the Covid pandemic, will come to an end this Thursday, something that’s expected to lead to an increase in migrant arrivals across the nation’s southern border. 

In the first three months of 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, including Border Patrol agents, apprehended 78,000 migrants in the agency’s Tucson Sector and 34,000 in the Yuma Sector (CBP data aren’t available past March). Across the border, more than half of apprehended migrants were sent out of the country using Title 42. 

On Monday, Hobbs’ team released a five-point “preparedness approach” for addressing the end of Title 42. The five prongs of her approach are public safety, partnerships, transportation, executive action and shelter. 

“We’re increasing transportation, we’re looking at sheltering options, and then just the additional public safety aspects,” the governor said. 

But most – if not all – of the programs described in Hobbs’ approach were already in place as strategies to manage the arrival of migrants at Arizona’s southern border, including programs like migrant busing that date back to her predecessor, former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. 

Jeff Glover, director of the Department of Public Safety, said that his department would increase patrols in some areas, but he wouldn’t put a number on the extent of new patrols and said the additional work wouldn’t mean a decrease in any other coverage. 

As for what executive actions she might take, Hobbs could only offer one possibility – “potentially sending more national guardsmen is one example.” 

Christian Slater, Hobbs’ communications director, said there are currently 180 national guardsmen at the border in Arizona. 

After abruptly calling a Monday morning news conference on Sunday night (after not speaking to the press for more than a month), the governor’s relatively vague statements came as a surprise. 

Responding to critical questioning, Slater said if the announcement sounded like more of the same – that was the point. “It’s a stepped-up approach to what we’ve been doing. Stepped-up transportation, stepped-up shelter,” Slater said. 

He said that the governor’s team specifically chose the term “approach” to avoid the suggestion that there was a new, concrete “plan” set for implementation. 

The federal government, also preparing for an end to Title 42, earlier this year rolled out a new set of immigration policies that are largely viewed as a crackdown on unauthorized migration. The policies include additional restrictions on asylum claims that could prevent many migrants from accessing U.S. asylum. 

Hobbs, a Democrat like President Joe Biden, hasn’t been as critical of the president as Ducey was. But she’s still complained of federal inaction on border issues and on Monday took shots at the feds for what she called an “incredibly inadequate response” to needs at the border. 

At the news conference, her staff handed out a copy of letters she sent last month to Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Hobbs asking the federal officials to “develop a specific plan to decompress the influx of migrants along the southern border.” 

In the April 28 message, she also asks the federal officials to take responsibility for transporting migrants (something that’s costing the state millions of dollars), move forward with a shelter program, fix problems with the CBP One app and target fentanyl smuggling. 

In a separate letter to U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly of Arizona, Hobbs asked for $800 million in federal money to fund shelters in border communities.