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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Participants of the 2018 Northland Hospice Run For Life 5K take off Saturday morning at Wheeler Park.

At Arrowhead Village, the families are gone, with most leaving their trailers behind.

The World Cup plays on the TV in the living room of Gaby V.’s new home in the Hidden Hollow mobile home park. Shaded by large ponderosa pines, the double-wide is just large enough to fit her family of five. But although she has done her best to make her family’s new home as comfortable as possible, there is one thing that is not so easily replaced: community.

Until recently, Gaby V., her husband and her children were residents of the Arrowhead Village mobile home park. On November 15, 2017, Gaby received a letter informing her that she, like the 56 other families that lived in the village, were to be evicted.

Almost seven months later, the deadline to be out of the park is approaching fast. The owners of the park, Kings House Inc., have given residents until July 1 to vacate or move their homes before the entire area is fenced off.

Gaby asked that only her first name and initial be used as she and other residents have been harassed online by people who say they should “stop complaining and just move,” said Gaby through a translator. The majority of the residents have, like Gaby’s family, already found other places to live in Flagstaff or just outside, but most had to leave their trailers behind.

Eight families including Gaby’s have taken up residence in Hidden Hollow. None of them, however, was able to transport their mobile homes with them, forcing them to sell the titles on their old homes to the state and buy homes that were already installed in the park. Gaby said this was very expensive and forced her to take out a loan in order to make it work.

In Arizona, the state will help the owner of a trailer move, giving up to $7,500 for a single-wide trailer or $12,500 for a double wide trailer.

But the prices of moving a mobile home can often be far more than that, as high as $15,000 and requiring specialized equipment, if it is even possible at all. Esther Sullivan, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Denver, said the name “mobile home” is essentially a misnomer and that most homes are designed to be mobile only as far as getting them from the factory to the site.

“Many of these homes are simply too complex to be moved and a move could make them structurally unlivable,” Sullivan said via phone. Older homes often fare much worse during a move to the point that many mobile home parks won’t allow the installation of homes that are older than 10 years. Most of the homes at Arrowhead were closer to 30 years old.

Of those families who have left Arrowhead, only six have been able to actually bring their mobile homes with them. If an owner can’t move their home or decides not to, the state will buy the title for $1,850 for a single-wide and $3,123 for a double-wide.

But Gaby was not able to take advantage of this either. Although she and her husband owned their Arrowhead home, Gaby said she did not have a copy of the title to sell to the state.

Gaby and her family lived at Arrowhead for 12 years and she said they probably spent about $1,000 a year on upkeep and to improve their home. Because of this, they lost all of the wealth they had accrued overtime.

And not holding the title doesn't just prevent Gaby from receiving the money from the state but it also means she is paying rent on the Arrowhead lot until the first, which is about $500 a month. On top of this expense, the units at Hidden Hollow can cost between $15,000 and $25,000 to buy.

Unlike Hidden Hollow, at Arrowhead utilities were also included in the rent for the space making that cost less than the family is paying now. So in addition to buying their unit, rent for their space at Hidden Hollow is $495 plus utilities, although Hidden Hollow has other additional amenities such as paved streets.

To help with the costs of relocating, nine of the families who lived in Arrowhead held an enchilada sale on May 26. Through the sale, the families raised $2,385, which they split.

Working with attorney Lee Philips, the residents had also asked Kings House Inc. for the reimbursement of the rent they have been paying since they were informed of the eviction or that they be paid $20,000 each for their homes, both of which were refused by the developer.

They also asked that every resident have their security deposit returned, but according to Kings House Inc.’s letter responding to the requests, this is not possible as they don’t have a security deposit from every resident.

A Lost Community

But the aspect of Arrowhead village that will be most missed is the community within it. One former Arrowhead Village resident who also wished to remain anonymous for fear of online harassment said the whole village was like one big home.

“Arrowhead felt like it was just a large home of people who looked out and knew each other. All of the children were growing up and having those same experiences growing up,” she said through a translator. “It felt like a home and you could say good morning to everyone, and they took care of one another.”

She added that the move has been hard on her kids, who have lived at Arrowhead for their entire lives – especially on her oldest daughter who understands what’s going on. She often hears her children talking about it to each other, wondering how they can get almost nothing after living there so long. A few weeks ago she even had to take her daughter to the hospital because her heart was beating so fast because of the stress of moving.

But a handful of families are still living at Arrowhead Village and in a desperate search for new housing.

One such resident is Juan Montelongo, who has lived in Arrowhead Village for 17 years and said he and his family of four are having a hard time finding another place to stay.

Montelongo said one problem is the cost. He said he needs something with three bedrooms but has found the rents for even a two-bedroom apartment are often well over $1,000 a month. When it comes to mobile homes, some parks he has looked at have minimum income requirements for purchasing a unit that he can’t meet, or limit the number of people a unit can hold.

If he can’t find a place in time, Montelogo said he and his family will be living with a friend who is already renting a place in Kachina Village. But living so far out of town is something he is trying to avoid and he said he’s worried that snow may prevent him from getting to work.

Gaby agreed she wasn’t so happy with the longer commute. Just to get home, she now has to take the Mountain Line to as far west as Route 4 will go, and even then she has a ways to walk. Now they also have less access to grocery stores or the hospital should something go wrong. But most of all, she said she is worried her family might have to move again.

For 12 years living at Arrowhead Village, she never thought something like this could happen. But now, living at the Hidden Hollow mobile home park, she can’t help but be worried that her family could be forced to move once more.

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NAIPTA to have new CEO come November after Meilbeck retires

Jeff Meilbeck, long-time CEO of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, is planning to retire in November.

Meilbeck has worked in public transit in Flagstaff for over 20 years, starting before NAIPTA even existed for what was then Coconino County’s Pine Country Transit System, which operated three routes out of an abandoned Route 66 gas station. Later, the name changed to Mountain Line.

Today, NAIPTA runs eight routes and last year served over 2 million riders  for the first time. Under Meilbeck, NAIPTA and the city were also successful in getting three ballot initiatives to secure and increase the funding for public transit in Flagstaff passed by voters.

And in fact, due to the introduction of new, larger, articulated buses, NAIPTA has already surpassed the number of riders served through all of last year.

On April 10 of this year Meilbeck was honored in Tucson receiving the “Transit Individual of the Year Award” from the Arizona Transit Association.

Councilmember Scott Overton, who sits on the NAIPTA board, said he has worked with Meilbeck extensively, both on the NAIPTA board and during Meilbeck term as interim city manager. Meilbeck, Overton said, has been a real boon to NAIPTA, building the organization into what it is today.

“We’ll wish him well,” said Overton.

Overton also said the board is well on its way to finding someone to fill the position of NAIPTA’s second CEO ever. The Board conducted an initial review of the candidates on June 20 and phone interviews are scheduled for June 28. Overton said the board expects to have a small list of finalists, down from a pool of around 35 candidates, by mid-August, when they will start conducting in-person interviews.

Overton said the board has known of Meilbeck’s departure for some time and it has given the board “ample time” to complete a search and vet the best possible candidates.

Because of this, Overton said he doesn’t believe there will be a need for an interim CEO as the final candidate should be ready to step in by November.

Jake Bacon / JAKE BACON, Arizona Daily Sun 

Jeff Meilbeck

After Trump order, border-crossing parents told in Tucson federal court where kids are

TUCSON -- Two Guatemalan men told a judge this week that if they are deported they’d like their children to be deported with them. Many illegal immigrants separated from their children don’t know where their kids are.

Parents separated from their children after illegal border crossings in Southern Arizona finally may have some answers about where their children are.

An hour after President Donald Trump ordered an end to separating families at the border last week, an assistant U.S. attorney in Tucson told parents being prosecuted in federal court that their children were being held in a Border Patrol facility on Tucson’s east side and offered a way to quickly reunite them.

The information provided Wednesday during Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for border crossers, appears to be the first time in six weeks that federal prosecutors here have said in court where the children are.

The potential breakthrough for parents came amid a flurry of activity in Tucson’s federal court as lawyers and a judge scrambled to adapt to Trump’s executive order. Two parents saw their sentencing hearings postponed to give lawyers time to sort out the impacts of the order. And defense lawyers raised questions about how the order would affect clients who ask for asylum.

Trump directed federal agencies on June 20 to keep families together in detention after the parents are arrested for crossing the border illegally. The order came about six weeks after his administration’s zero-tolerance policy for illegal border crossers led to more than 2,300 parents separated from their children. It is unclear whether Trump’s order applies to families already separated.

In Tucson, at least 56 parents were separated from at least 60 children since mid-May through prosecutions in Operation Streamline, according to an ongoing review of court records by the Arizona Daily Star. The vast majority were sentenced to time-served and released into civil immigration custody.

Reunifications at issue

In the wake of Trump’s order Wednesday, the question of how to reunite parents with their children consumed the start of the Streamline hearing.

“My client, whose 9-year-old son was taken from his arms today, is seeking reunification as soon as possible,” defense attorney Guenevere Nelson-Melby told Magistrate Judge Bruce G. MacDonald, adding her client also is seeking asylum.

Another client of Nelson-Melby wanted to be reunited with his 16-year-old child, as did clients of three other defense attorneys.

“For those that are going to receive a time-served sentence, the juveniles that were separated are still under care at Border Patrol headquarters at Golf Links (Road),” federal prosecutor Christopher Lewis told MacDonald at Wednesday’s hearing.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for placing the children in foster care or with family members, was notified and will pick them up within 24 hours, Lewis said. “They do not expect those juveniles will be picked up prior to these defendants returning to headquarters,” he said. “The intent is to reunite them as soon as they return.”

At previous hearings, Lewis had responded to questions about children’s whereabouts by saying he did not have any information and referring questions to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

MacDonald reiterated his request to Lewis from several weeks ago to try to track down information on the whereabouts of those children, saying Wednesday he understood Lewis was “bearing the brunt of some of the issues and we appreciate your efforts.”

“We know you’re just the messenger,” MacDonald said.

Hearings postponed

Parents prosecuted through Streamline in recent weeks have been sent to detention centers in Arizona, Georgia and California, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement records. The locations of their children are unclear.

Since the beginning of the year, the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project has documented 425 cases of family separation, the legal aid group for immigration detainees in Arizona said in a June 20 statement opposing lengthy incarceration of children and families.

“In light of the executive order,” hearings for parents traveling with children could be postponed, MacDonald told defense lawyers Wednesday.

Two parents Wednesday had their hearings continued for several weeks and the parents were placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service, court records show.

Defense lawyer Diana Castillo Reina said one of her clients was seeking asylum for herself and her son. She did not know how the information provided by Lewis would affect her client’s ability to have an interview regarding her fear of returning to Guatemala.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona and the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector did not respond to questions about changes to Streamline proceedings following the executive order.

In federal courts in Texas, the Associated Press reported prosecutors were asking to dismiss cases Thursday involving parents and children. The Department of Justice denied ending the zero-tolerance policy that led to family separations.

In Tucson, no parents mentioned being separated from their children during Thursday’s Streamline hearing, which is not uncommon. The Daily Star did not find any cases of parents asking about their children from June 13-19.

The federal government is preparing to house up to 20,000 migrant children on four military bases in Texas and Arkansas, the New York Times reported June 21. It was unclear whether the children’s parents also would be housed at the bases.

Housing children with their parents during immigration proceedings is likely to raise challenges in court, due to a federal court settlement that limits the length of time a child can be detained, generally 20 days.

The Department of Justice is seeking a “limited exemption” from the settlement “so that ICE may detain alien minors who have arrived with their parent or legal guardian together in ICE family residential facilities,” according to a June 21 filing in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.