/ Modified may 3, 2019 5:08 p.m.

Stonegarden Funding; Tomato Trade; USMCA Update

Pima County considers ways to fund shelters for asylum seekers.

The surge in families seeking asylum put Pima County and the city of Tucson to the test recently. Shelters run by nonprofits ran out of space over the Easter weekend. With short notice, the city and county opened temporary shelters to house migrants just released from federal custody. In that time, the county alone helped more than 200 people get to their next destination. Now it's looking at ways to pay for ongoing efforts to provide aid.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry discussed one option with Lorraine Rivera, which involves using funds from the federal grant program Operation Stonegarden. The grant typically goes to state and local law enforcement agencies for work done with cooperation with Border Patrol. Huckelberry described a recent directive from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that said Stonegarden funding could be used in Southwest border states for humanitarian relief.

"And that humanitarian aid is what we use to provide medical assistance, food, shelter, water and transportation for immigrants who are seeking asylum. And I think that's kind of come to the forefront just this last Easter weekend," Huckelberry said.

Costs associated with the temporary shelter totaled less than $10,000, according to Huckelberry. "But I think if you were to extrapolate that throughout the year it adds up to real money after months of doing this," Huckelberry said. "I think a good start at humanitarian aid is in ... several hundred thousand dollars."

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote May 7 on whether or not to accept Stonegarden funding. Last fall the board voted to reject the grant. Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier was a vocal critic of the board's decision to turn down the funds. He's also outspoken about border-related issues and described it as a crisis before the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security earlier in the week. Napier discussed his testimony and the possible return of Operation Stonegarden.

When it comes to U.S. and Mexico relations, Ricardo Pineda has his finger on the pulse. For the last five years, he's served as head of the Mexican Consulate in Tucson. It's given him some perspective on Arizona's role in the two countries' dealings, which he shared with Lorraine Rivera this week.

The Tomato Suspension Agreement, a deal in place for more than 20 years, is expected to end this month. The agreement governs the price of exporting tomatoes from Mexico to the U.S. in place of tariffs. Florida growers who believe tomatoes from Mexico are sold below production cost got permission from the U.S. Department of Commerce to withdraw from the deal. Lorraine Rivera learned more about the potential impacts to distributors of produce who oversee imports and exports at the Arizona-Mexico border. She spoke to Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc., whose family has moved produce from Mexico for more than 40 years.

"As of May 7, any importation of Mexico tomatoes will be subject to duties. At the moment, it's 17.56 percent duties on the value of the product," Chamberlain said. "That's a very difficult amount of duties to pay. And it's something that may change the landscape of the importation of fruits and vegetables in general through Nogales and all ports of entry."

Several months after leaders of the U.S., Mexico and Canada signed a new trade agreement to replace NAFTA, federal lawmakers in each of the three nations have yet to ratify the deal. Arizona 360 learned more about what's in the U.S., Mexico and Canada Agreement from Eric Martin, who covers the economy and government for Bloomberg News in Mexico City.

"The focus of the new agreement is tightening the rules for production of cars. Cars account for the majority of the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico," Martin said. "What the new agreement does in part is raise the amount of content that needs to come from within the region. So that prevents content from Asia or from Europe from being used as easily in cars produced in Mexico and sold duty free in the U.S."

Martin also discussed the possibility that a congressional vote on the deal may be years away.

"There's speculation that if this doesn't happen by the August recess it could be put on the back burner until after 2020, potentially until a second Trump administration or until there's a new president. So, it's really crunch time to see whether this agreement moves through the U.S. Congress or not," Martin said.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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