YUMA, Ariz.—Border agents in Yuma are back on patrol after months of being inundated with floods of illegal immigrants that peaked in May.
The illegal traffic in the Yuma sector almost tripled in fiscal 2019 with more than 68,000 aliens apprehended. Agents arrested some 450 people per day in May.
The sector’s two detention facilities—with a combined capacity of 410—were overrun. Vehicle bays became temporary holding facilities as more than 1,100 people had to be crammed in for processing at one point in late April.
In early July, Congress approved a bill to allocate supplemental funds for humanitarian assistance. Yuma was thus able to construct a temporary tent facility to house 500 people and the pressure was alleviated.
Now, due to a combination of the Migrant Protection Protocols, the Mexican National Guard deployment, and new wall construction, Yuma’s numbers have plunged.
Agents in Yuma are currently arresting 30 people on a busy day—a far cry from the 450 a day in May. The detention facility held 70 people on Nov. 27.
“Just being able to patrol the border is the biggest thing,” Yuma Border Patrol agent Jose Garibay said about the drop in numbers. In May, with at least half of the sector’s agents tied up with transporting, processing, and looking after families and children, patrol time was severely limited.
Garibay said although the number of single adults from Mexico has been fewer than 10 percent of the apprehensions, among them were “a lot of murderers, child rapists, child molesters.”
“We were catching a lot of violent criminals and recidivists who were trying to come into the country and had been caught two, three, four, five times in the past,” he said.
He said of the 68,000 deportable aliens apprehended in the Yuma sector this fiscal year, only about 7.5 percent claimed fear of return to their home country, which would start asylum proceedings.
“Many people claim that these people are running for their lives and they have no other choice,” said Garibay. But, he said, in Yuma, that’s not the case.
“It’s all economic. It’s the same type of reason that the people [have always come] here for, the only difference is that these individuals are bringing kids with them and using them as shields to pull the heartstrings of America and the rest of the world.”
He said the vast majority of the aliens traveled from their home country—predominantly Guatemala—up to the border in air-conditioned buses or vans.
“So by the time they leave Guatemala, or wherever, on Monday, by Wednesday or Thursday, they’re here at the border, and by Friday or Saturday they were out on the streets of the United States,” he said.
“That’s how streamlined this process was for them, especially during the height of the crisis.”
Many of those crossing into Yuma were headed for one of four common destinations: Homestead, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Houston, Texas; or Oakland, California.
Illegal immigrant adults with children were released into the United States with ankle monitoring bracelets and court dates for their immigration hearings.
Garibay said a study undertaken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Charleston found that 90 percent of families that were released with ankle monitoring bracelets cut them off.
“Imagine how many across the whole border,” he said.
Mexico Steps Up
Garibay attributes the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and Mexico’s deployment of its National Guard on its northern border as the major factors in turning the tide.
Also known as “Remain in Mexico,” the MPP is an agreement between the United States and Mexico, under which those who cross the U.S. border illegally will likely be housed by Mexico, instead of being released into the United States while they await court proceedings.
The program doesn’t yet run across all sectors along the southwest border, but in Yuma it does, and it has proven effective. Asylum-seekers and others who cross into Yuma are processed by Border Patrol and sent to Mexicali, Mexico, to await proceedings.
“That was a huge deterrence for them, because it took away that 100 percent chance of them getting released into the country just because they have a child,” Garibay said.
However, the MPP doesn’t yet operate for the neighboring Tucson, Arizona, border sector, and it’s clear the numbers there are rising as smugglers divert the illegal border traffic from Yuma.
During the first six months of 2019, Yuma’s apprehension numbers were higher than Tucson’s. However after May when MPP started kicking in for Yuma, its apprehensions declined from almost 7,200 in June to 795 in October. In Tucson, apprehensions hit 5,500 in June, then dipped to 4,000 in August, before rising again to more than 6,350 in October.
“Once we get MPP across the whole southwest border, that’ll be a huge game changer because it won’t allow them to take advantage of that loophole,” Garibay said.
Checkpoints Back Open
Yuma had to close all three of its highway checkpoints during March, April, and May as more than half of the sector’s Border Patrol agents had been diverted to deal with the humanitarian crisis.
“We don’t know what is getting through,” said Yuma Sector Border Patrol Chief Anthony Porvaznik on April 17. “Last year … we had just under 1,800 pounds of methamphetamine seized at our checkpoints. This year, we’re far below that because we don’t have our checkpoints open all the time. So, that’s hundreds and hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine, dangerous drugs getting into the communities all across America, because it doesn’t stay in Yuma.”
As with ports of entry, highway checkpoints are a boon for finding illicit narcotics hidden in vehicles.
Over two days in October, agents discovered more than 100 pounds of methamphetamine with an estimated value of $240,000 at the Yuma checkpoints. A further $450,000 in methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl was seized over a weekend.
Construction finished right before Thanksgiving on a new 22-mile stretch of wall just east of the San Luis port of entry. Much of the steel bollard wall is 30 feet high, and it replaces the old landing mat fence from 1990, which was essentially 13-foot sheets of corrugated iron.
“It’s a huge upgrade from what we had in the past,” Garibay said.
The fence has an anti-climb plate at the top, and the steel slats are reinforced with rebar and concrete. It isn’t impenetrable, but Garibay hopes it’ll stop or slow down the majority of illicit crossings.
“It’s going to make a huge difference for people that are working out here,” he said. “This is a huge game changer for us.”
A further 31 miles of barrier is slated to go up east of the new fence, as well as a 5-mile stretch up beside the Colorado River, where much of the family-unit traffic was crossing.