In about two weeks the Federal Government will stop enforcing a COVID health rule that resulted in far fewer asylum seekers entering the U.S. It also made it much easier to deport people already here.

Arizona communities worry they will be overwhelmed with asylum seekers when the rule called Title 42 lifts.

Some community leaders testified to a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Kyrsten Sinema. KGUN9 monitored the Washington hearing online from Tucson.

A Deputy Pima County Administrator who oversees the Countys shelter effort says it has kept migrants off the streets and made it less obvious to the community how many pass through. But he and other local leaders say they fear when Title 42 lifts, the surge of people could overwhelm the shelters and spill onto the streets.

Thousands of asylum seekers have been allowed into the U.S. during the Title 42 restrictions, but thousands more have been turned away to wait just south of the border.

Title 42 immigration restrictions were based on the COVID public health emergency. But that will be allowed to lapse May 11th.

Anticipation of increased demand is part of the reason Pima County just opened a new shelter managed by Casa Alitas of Catholic Community Services.

Deputy Pima County Administrator Doctor Francisco Garcia says local shelters were almost overwhelmed in December when Federal authorities released about 1500 migrants in the Tucson area. He says immigration officials say we could see twice that when Title 42 goes away.

Doctor Garcia says the Countys often asked why it takes on a huge, expensive effort to keep Federal agents from releasing migrants to the streets. He says part of the reason is humanitarian.

But the best answer is because Pima County is a local government charged with providing for the safety, health and welfare of our residents. Having 1000s of people with limited resources, limited English skills, trying to figure out how to get to other parts of the country that is unfamiliar to them with no food and little money and no place to sleep is deleterious to the health, safety and welfare of everybody in this county.

Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa says social media and smugglers are bringing danger to the streets of his town. He says smugglers pay young people to pick up illegal border crossers and drive them north at high speed where theyre a threat to anyone on Sierra Vista streets.

The Mayor says, I want to stop worrying about if my daughter will get back home from volleyball practice. I want to stop worrying about if my mother will get back home from Bible study. That’s what keeps me up at night. That’s what I worry about. When’s the next citizen that’s going to serve as a fatality because of these load car drivers.

The community leaders say Federal support has allowed them to at least mitigate the effect of the surge of immigration, but much of that money was tied to the COVID emergency. They hope Congress will keep the money coming to help border communities cope.