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Nonprofit migrant shelters call for more help from the government: "Asylum will always be a need"

Asylum seekers bused to Tucson
Asylum seekers bused to Tucson 03:24

Ernesto and Maria, who've been married for 35 years, are finally reunited nearly two weeks after entering the United States. They embraced and cried together. They said they were hoping to get asylum but had no idea they would be separated.

The couple from Cuba plans to meet family in Orlando, Florida but is currently staying at the nonprofit Casa Alitas shelter in Tucson, Arizona.

Border Patrol officials say they're seeing a "significant increase" in the number of migrants crossing the southern border into Arizona. Officials say nearly 90% of them have been sent back to Mexico, but the rest are being allowed to make their case for asylum.

Federal space to hold asylum seekers is limited in the U.S. because of COVID-19 and legal requirements. Unaccompanied minors are the priority, and others seeking asylum are given notices to appear and then released. For many, the next step is a shelter like Casa Alitas, where volunteers prepare essential items for the migrants.

"Volunteers right here are organizing hygiene kits for everybody," Diego Piña Lopez, Program Manager Of Casa Alitas told CBS News' Lilia Luciano in an exclusive interview.

He said proving those essentials and helping the migrants connect with family has become even more critical.

The center is run with donations and staffed by Catholic Community Services. Lopez said that the federal government needs to provide more assistance to help the busy shelters.

"Asylum will always be a need and there should be some level of funding from the government to support this work," he said.

He said supplies get sent from Casa Alitas not only across the state but also across the border.

Sabri Dickman, the Border Patrol deputy chief, said arrests of single adults are up 206%. The detention of unaccompanied minors rose 45%. He said he is worried about the coming summer months.

"They meet with their smugglers, who tell them that it could be a one hour or two-hour walk and that one gallon of water will be sufficient. What they don't know is that these walks can be days long and so they're being misled, led out into the desert."

The Border Patrol in Tucson said it's now exploring the idea of adding federally supported shelters that are better suited to house families seeking asylum. Last year a judge ruled the conditions at their holding facilities violated migrants' rights. 

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