ARIZONA

Arizona will bus, fly migrants from state under new Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs

Mary Jo Pitzl
Arizona Republic
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Gov. Katie Hobbs answers questions during a press conference at the Arizona Capitol on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Phoenix.

Arizona is continuing to move migrants out of the state's border communities and to other destinations in the U.S., Gov. Katie Hobbs said Friday.

The program has expanded from buses to include the option of chartered air travel via a 737 aircraft, according to a state contract signed Jan. 14.

In a wide-ranging news conference at the state Capitol, the new Democratic governor said the controversial practice, started by her Republican predecessor, needs review to ensure it is effective. But she indicated it had some merit.

"It’s something that provides support to those local communities," Hobbs told reporters, referring to border communities that are strained by the influx of migrants. "If we’re spending money to bus people, why not just get them to their final destination?”

In a follow-up statement, press secretary Josselyn Berry said the new administration is taking a different tack from what former Gov. Doug Ducey did.

"We’re sending migrants to cities they actually need to go to and be connected with their sponsors, and we are doing it in a more cost effective way by looking at all travel options, not just buses," Berry said.

She did not provide details on how many migrants have traveled under the new contract. The costs of the effort were not immediately clear.

Ducey's administration sent migrants to Washington, D.C., at a cost of about $82,000 per bus trip. Ducey stressed that only migrants who volunteered for the free trips were bused.

In general, immigration and border authorities release migrants who have requested asylum at shelters in Yuma, Tucson and Phoenix. From there, the migrants are on their own to get to their final destinations in the U.S. where they have relatives or other sponsors, who typically pay for bus or airline tickets. 

Ducey and other governors started the effort last May to try to pressure President Joe Biden into taking more action to address the influx at the border. The practice was criticized by the White House as a "shameful" political maneuver. Arizona set aside $15 million in its budget this year to pay for transporting migrants, and the busing program was estimated to cost $1 million per month.

Hobbs addresses water, death penalty

That Arizona was continuing with a busing program was just one topic covered in the governor's 15-minute question-and-answer session with reporters.

Hobbs also touched on issues ranging from the water crisis to border issues to prisons and the death penalty. Such open-ended sessions were a rarity in the final years of Republican Doug Ducey's administration.

Earlier Friday, she signed an executive order to create an independent commissioner to review death penalty protocols, as well as staffing issues at the state Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry.

Hobbs declined repeated questions to state her position on the death penalty, calling it irrelevant to the review she is seeking.

On water, Hobbs said the state has a duty to address the policies that allow the construction of "wildcat subdivisions" without an assured water supply. The northeast Valley community of Rio Verde Foothills is the current flashpoint for the issue, as it lacks a secure water supply.

Earlier this month, Scottsdale followed through on its long-standing warning that it would cut off water to the community at the beginning of January.

Hobbs: Legislature acting 'immature'

Hobbs' news conference was held at the end of a week where her proposed budget met an icy reception from Republican lawmakers. She defended the $17.1 billion proposal as reflective of what voters have told her they want, and added it's a starting point for negotiations with the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“There has to be compromise," she said. "And I can guarantee that compromise is not going to come just from the Ninth Floor,” she said, referring to the location of the Governor’s Office.

Gov. Katie Hobbs wears a walking boot as she answers questions during a press conference at the Arizona Capitol on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Phoenix.

The governor also noted that she has a veto stamp, effectively making hers the final word on legislation and the state budget. Although lawmakers could override a veto, that is unlikely given that would take Democratic support along with all Republican votes.

“It’s unfortunate that the Legislature has chosen this early on to be as, frankly, immature and unwilling to work with us as they have demonstrated," Hobbs said.

She reiterated her invitation that her door is open to all, but said aside from GOP legislative leaders, no rank and file Republicans have sought access.

However, she said community leaders “who have not had necessarily a lot of reception in this building" have come to meet with her.

Hobbs arrived at the briefing sporting an orthopedic walking boot on her left foot. Her staff said it was to deal with irritation from a plantar fasciitis injury that flared up when she was running the 5K event at the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon the previous weekend.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl.

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