By Terri Jo Neff |
It was a hearing two years in the making, but for government officials, business leaders, and nonprofit operators in Yuma County the sentiment toward the recent field hearing conducted by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee was better late than never.
On Feb. 24, Committee Chairman Jim Jordan led a 14-member delegation to Yuma to hear testimony about how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has responded to the southwest border crisis that began two years ago when President Joe Biden took office.
The delegation came on the heels of a border visit earlier this month by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and three freshman representatives who were hosted by Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ6) in Cochise County, in the southeast corner of the state.
The Yuma trip, however, focused on evidence of how the federal response to the ongoing border crisis in Arizona’s southwest corner has created economic challenges and public health threats.
It also led a recently retired high ranking U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) official to freely speak out on the crisis while others addressed the hard dollar costs of providing free foodstuff and medical care to tens of thousands of migrants.
Dr. Robert Trenschel, president and CEO of Yuma Regional Medical Center, described the $26 million price tag for uncompensated health care provided in 2022 to thousands of illegal immigrants who have besieged Yuma County.
“Migrant patients are receiving free care,” Trenschel noted. “We cannot provide completely free care to the residents of our community so the situation is not fair and is understandably concerning to them.”
Trenschel explained that some migrants have required intensive treatment such as dialysis and heart surgery. He added that discharging migrants after treatment is further complicated by the fact they don’t have access to the necessary post-release equipment and follow-up.
“And when babies are born, they may have to stay in the intensive care unit for a month because of the complications of their situation,” Trenschel said, adding many of the mothers had not had adequate prenatal care.
All of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee skipped the trip to Yuma, calling it a “stunt hearing.” The lack of bipartisan interest was noted by former USBP Yuma Sector Chief Chris Clem, who was the top USBP official in the area from December 2020 to December 2022 until he retired.
“I think that it should’ve been a bipartisan hearing down here because in order to solve a border security and immigration crisis, we need to involve the community, the experts, the business community,” Clem said of Thursday’s hearing. “That takes everybody and so that means everybody that is represented and their representatives need to be here.”
Clem added that because immigration is a socioeconomic issue, “it requires all sides of the aisle to address.”
The threat to Yuma County’s agriculture powered economy was also addressed by an unexpected voice – Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot.
Wilmot spoke of how USBP apprehensions in his border county went from about 40 a day prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 to more than 1,000 on some days last year. He also shed a light on the economic and public health issues associated with the border crisis.
According to Wilmot, Yuma County supplies 90 percent of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. during the winter. But those fields as well as the water needed to support agriculture in the area is being increasingly endangered from “tons of trash, pharmaceuticals, and biological waste” associated with border crossers along the Colorado River.