Smugglers bring migrants across remote Arizona border and harass US agents


LUKEVILLE, Arizona (AP) — Gersten Miranda and his wife were among thousands of migrants who recently arrived in this remote area on Arizona's southern border with Mexico, crossing into the United States through a hole in the wall. And walked about 14 miles (23) overnight. kilometres) to surrender before Border Patrol agents along with two school-going daughters.

“There is no security in my country,” said a 28-year-old Ecuadorian man who shut down his employer because of extortion by criminals. “You cannot work without security. You can't survive."

Changes in smuggling routes have increased the influx of migrants here from countries as diverse as Senegal, Bangladesh and China, prompting the Border Patrol to seek help from other federal agencies and investigate the issue that is important in next year's presidential elections Has gone.

With hundreds of migrants crossing the region daily, the U.S. government on Monday indefinitely closed the nearby international crossing between Lukeville, Arizona, and Sonoita, Mexico, to allow customs and border patrols appointed at the port of entry. Security officers could be freed up to help with transportation. Other support. The agency has also partially closed some other border ports of entry in recent months, including a pedestrian crossing in San Diego and a bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas.

A group of migrants walk along the border in a remote part of the Arizona desert as they join hundreds of migrants gathering at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A group of migrants walk along the border in a remote part of the Arizona desert as they join hundreds of migrants gathering at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Gersten Miranda, left, of Ecuador and his family receive food and water before joining hundreds of migrants gathering at the border Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Lukeville, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Gersten Miranda, left, of Ecuador and his family receive food and water before joining hundreds of migrants gathering at the border Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Lukeville, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Critics of the move, including Arizona Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs; The state's two U.S. senators, the governor of Mexico's Sonora state and leadership of the nearby Tohono O'odham Nation said it could hurt business and tourism. Hobbs urged President Joe Biden to redeploy the 243 National Guard members already in the Tucson sector to help reopen the Lukeville crossing.

The morning after its closure, about a dozen Border Patrol agents in green uniforms observed more than 400 migrants who had spent the night wrapped in bright Mylar blankets near a high wall of steel bollards, later covered with saguaro cactus. And was thrown among the palo verde trees. ,

Three or four times as many CBP Field Operations officers in navy blue uniforms helped migrants into white vans for the short drive to a canopy-lined field intake center. From there, agents took migrants to the Border Patrol's Ajo Station, a half-hour north, or to other locations such as Tucson for processing.

U.S. officials have been so short-handed in Arizona that they used charter flights to transfer some migrants from Tucson to three Texas border cities for processing, according to Witness at the Border, an advocacy group that analyzes flight data. Is.

Officials have said that federal air marshals who provide security on commercial flights and even Federal Protective Service officers who guard U.S. government buildings are being sent to the border without being told where they are going. Are.

"We're seeing a lot of different types of uniforms here," said Tom Wingo, a humanitarian aid worker in Lukeville.

Nonprofit groups are concerned about the well-being of migrants.

“This is a humanitarian crisis happening in our own backyard,” said Dora Rodriguez, president of the Tucson nonprofit Humane Borders, which keeps water tanks at the border for migrants. "There are hundreds of people, including infants and children, who have been stranded in remote areas of the desert for several days."

Lukeville area Popularity as a crossing point The border from Mexico to the US has erupted in recent months. This is one of the most striking examples of migrants who have left Border Patrol behind and walked into remote areas. In 2019, Antelope Wells, New Mexico, became a popular destination. Also this year, hundreds of migrants have camped in the mountains of Jacumba Hot Springs, California, waiting for agents to process them.

Because Lukeville is so remote, Border Patrol staff is short, so smugglers from the area controlled by Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel take people there. Arrivals last week included Luiz Velazquez, 41, his wife and their three children from Zacatecas, a Mexican state plagued by drug cartel violence.

Heat-related illnesses were a major concern several months ago, when daytime temperatures reached triple digits. The worry now is that night temperatures are hovering around 40, in a place where the nearest hospital and non-profit migrant shelter are about two hours away.

Chris Klemm, a retired Yuma, Arizona sector chief, said it's part of smugglers' strategy to reduce agents as much as possible, forcing the closure of highway checkpoints and other resources for processing migrants. is diverted. He said the remoteness creates a "huge strain" on the Border Patrol.

Art del Cueto, vice president of the Tucson-based National Border Patrol Council, said the union wants stronger measures to stop migrants from coming through. He said it is not a case of too few agents, but too many migrants.

In next year's presidential election, the border is a top issue for voters, especially Republicans, and immigration issues could be a liability for Biden, a Democrat, as he runs for re-election.

National AP-NORC Poll The survey conducted in November found that nearly half of American adults say increasing security at the US-Mexico border should be a "high priority" for the federal government, while 3 in 10 call it a "medium priority." Republicans were more likely than Democrats to call it a higher priority.

Biden's Approach Immigration includes new legal pathways to enter the country along with greater restrictions on asylum for those crossing the border illegally. Former President Donald Trump, the leading GOP contender for the 2024 nomination, has promised even greater crackdown harsh immigration policies In the second term.

Additional funding for border security has been blocked in Congress over a package to provide additional aid to Israel and Ukraine in the war against Hamas and Russia.

Migrants rest in the desert near the border wall as they join hundreds of migrants gathered at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Migrants rest in the desert near the border wall as they join hundreds of migrants gathered at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A sign shows a port of entry closed due to the surge of thousands of migrants at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A sign shows a port of entry closed due to the surge of thousands of migrants at the border in Lukeville, Ariz., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

John Modlin, Border Patrol's Tucson sector chief, said Friday that the agency made 18,900 arrests for illegal crossings last week in that sector, which includes most of Arizona's border with Mexico. This means an average of 2,700 arrests per day, down from the daily average of 1,800 in October and barely more than 700 in December 2022.

The 2020 census reported the population of Lukeville as 35, but the mobile home park where many residents lived now appears abandoned, with dilapidated buildings and older manufactured homes scattered about. The already busy service station and store selling ice and snacks to passengers was closed indefinitely on Monday.

The Lukeville border crossing is also popular among US residents traveling from Arizona to the popular resorts of Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point. Nicknamed "Arizona's Beach", it is about 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of the border on the northern coast of the Sea of ​​Cortez.

Americans who want to travel to Puerto Peñasco now must pass through Nogales, a three-hour drive to the east, or San Luis, a two-hour drive to the west.

Alfonso Durazo, governor of Mexico's Sonora state, has told officials in both countries to "make all necessary efforts to resume as soon as possible the extraordinary commercial, tourist and social relations that have historically distinguished Sonora and Arizona." "

“The solution is not to stop border crossings,” Durazo said.

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Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Maria Verza in Mexico City and Rebecca Santana and Lynley Sanders in Washington contributed to this report.



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