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Border Roundup: Winter weather dangers, border implications for gun-control debate

Border crossing

Anthropologist Robin Reineke told the BBC how she works to identify bodies found in southern Arizona and return them to their families. Working through lists of missing persons, interviews with families and the pockets of the dead themselves, she encounters everything from everyday items like toothbrushes and snacks to personal items like identification cards, religious items and letters and photos from family. Reineke and colleagues at Tucson's Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner currently have about 800 unidentified bodies recovered from throughout the Tucson Sector and the Tohono O'odham Nation, some found by hikers and volunteers others by ranchers and law enforcement.

Border crossers aren't the only ones at risk from the the harsh conditions in southern Arizona; hikers, hunters and humanitarian volunteers face the same environmental challenges. Long-time Samaritan volunteer Kathryn Ferguson and another volunteer spent hours trying to find a spot with cell service after their car battery died last Friday night. Temperatures were in the 20s by the time Border Patrol agents, alerted by family members who received the pair's GPS distress signal, arrived to help them jump the vehicle. Border Patrol agents say they've treated dozens this winter for exposure.

Hidden-camera video set up by another Tucson-based humanitarian group captured images of a Border Patrol agent removing resources they say could save lives. In the video, the agent apparently examines and then carries away a plastic bag that the volunteers say contained blankets and warm clothing which they had left on desert trails next to water jugs. Humanitarian groups including Samaritans and No More Deaths regularly hike trails used by border crossers looking for people in distress, also leaving supplies along the way. They say the controversial practice saves lives while critics say it encourages illegal border crossers and negatively affects the environment.

Law enforcement

Fernanda Santos took a closer look at Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio's controversial plan to provide Phoenix=area schools with armed security through patrols by his volunteer posse. Posse members, some of whom have criminal records themselves, say they're looking for "someone they feel does not belong."

Sharyl Attkisson used interviews with federal officials and Arizona locals to look into corruption in within U.S. Customs and Border Protection and federal efforts to combat cartel infiltration attempts.

Michel Marizco explained how President Obama's proposed gun laws, including a federal firearms trafficking law, could impact weapons trafficking. Current regulations primarily address straw purchasing where purchasers with clean records legally buy guns and give or sell them to people who can't legally buy them. As in the case of Operation Fast and Furious, these guns often end up at crime scenes on both sides of the border. Fellow Fronteras Desk reporters Alisa Barba and John Rosman take a look at gun laws in Mexico and how that affects weapons trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Across the border

Noe Hernandez, a silver medalist in the Sydney 2000 Olympics, died Wednesday after being shot in the head Dec. 30. After the shooting, Hernandez said he believed he was specifically targeted and had been receiving threats for years.

Meanwhile violence was up across the country with some deaths linked to organized crimes and other to gun violence.

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Crime victims in Mexico will now be eligible to have their health and psychiatric care costs covered by the state, according to a new law enacted by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The law, which goes into effect in 30 days, also creates a relief fund and a national registry for the victims but does not define which victims are covered and, critics say, only targets federal crimes.

Politics and policy

Rep. Catherine Miranda, D-Tucson, is proposing a bill that would amend Arizona state law and make driver's licenses available to immigrants in the president's deferred-action program. Last year, Gov. Jan Brewer barred the Motor Vehicle Division from issuing licenses to program participants, a decision that is being challenged in federal court.

According to senior officials and lawmakers President Obama plans to address immigration soon with single, comprehensive bill that will be quick, ambitious and provide a path to citizenship. This would be in contrast to plans like a proposal by Sen. Mark Rubio, R-Florida, he says would "modernize" immigration by addressing specific groups of immigrants like migrant workers, DREAMers or highly skilled immigrants.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Ajo Station agents from the All-Terrain Unit patrolling discovered an abandoned Chevy Suburban near Why on Monday.

Border Patrol Activity

As reported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection press releases:

Friday, Jan. 11

Nogales Station agents assisted of 2 humanitarian aid workers from the Tucson based Samaritans group after their vehicle wouldn't start and they became stranded in the Tumcacori Mountains in the evening. They summoned help using their GPS device; Border Patrol agents jump started their vehicle and followed them to the I-19 as temperatures were below freezing when agents arrived on scene.

Sunday, Jan. 13

Yuma Sector agents followed footprints crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and arrested eight suspected smugglers with 338 pounds of marijuana (estimated value $169,000) in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Background checks revealed that two had records as aggravated felons.

Monday, Jan. 14

Ajo Station agents from the All-Terrain Unit patrolling near near Why discovered an abandoned Chevy Suburban with 85 bundles of marijuana (approximately 1,724 pounds with an estimated value of $862,000)

Ajo Station agents followed vehicle tire tracks off-road into a wash where they found an abandoned 2003 Chevy Tahoe with 66 bundles of marijuana (approximately 1,340 pounds, estimated valued $670,000)

Ajo Station agents working near Pia Oik located a second 2003 Chevy Tahoe abandoned in dense brush with 76 bundles of marijuana (1,521 pounds, estimated value approximately $760,500)

Tuesday, Jan. 15

Ajo Station agents with aerial support from an Office of Air and Marine helicopter arrested 12 suspects with 1,250 pounds of marijuana (estimated value $625,000) near Pia Oik. Background checks identified one as a juvenile and two as aggravated felons.

Wednesday, Jan. 16

Yuma Sector agents arrested four suspects seen jumping the U.S.-Mexico border fence near Andrade, California. Background checks identified one as an unregistered sex offender deported a month ago.

Sources: