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376 people, including families & children, detained crossing border near Yuma

While the federal government remains shutdown over border security spending, a group of 376 people, almost all families or unaccompanied children from Central America, crossed the border barrier near Yuma on Monday morning. 

The Border Patrol's Yuma Sector said on Twitter that the group of 376 Central Americans "inundated" agents in the sector, posting video of the group, who crossed about 10 miles east of San Luis, just south of Yuma, Ariz. and were walking on a patrol road alongside the 18-foot metal bollard wall. 

Smugglers dug a series of seven holes, only a few feet long, beneath the steel border fence, and hundreds scrabbled beneath the wall, while a smaller number went over it, ABC News reported

A spokesman with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that 179 of the 376 people were children, including over 30 unaccompanied minors, ABC News said.

Jose Garibay, a spokesman with the Yuma Sector told TucsonSentinel.com that the group dug beneath the border fence in an area where "two different pieces were put together." One section, was designed to prevent "vehicle drive-throughs," Garibay said. A second layer, added after 2006 was designed to keep people out and was welded to the older infrastructure. "But, with that, because it wasn't designed of the cohesive structure, it wasn't designed to keep people from digging under," he said . "There's no concrete footer there, and it's all sand underneath it."

The group tunneled beneath the fence about 10 miles east of the San Luis port of entry, Garibay said.

The Twitter account @CBPArizona notes that "This account will not be actively managed during the lapse in federal funding." Despite the lapse in funding, the account has published 18 tweets, including photographs of a rescue on Jan. 3 and video of an armed man running along the border, who was later arrested by Mexico's federal police.

In October and November — the last months where data is available — Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 48,000 people traveling as families and nearly 10,300 unaccompanied minors, representing nearly 57 percent of all apprehensions along the southwest border.

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"We don't have a sense of how many" people in the latest Yuma group will seek asylum, Garibay said. Those taken into custody for processing "are relying on the Flores agreement, which requires we release them within 20 days."

"There's a reason they're bringing kids, and why fathers are bringing a child with them, while leaving their wives and other children at home. Smuggling organizations know the legal loopholes in our system, and they're trying to exploit them." Garibay added that people can make a credible fear claim with Border Patrol, but that the process is up to Enforcement and Removal Operations, a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In recent years, federal officials have challenged the Flores agreement — a consent decree stemming from a 1997 lawsuit filed against ICE's predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, that outlines how the manner and time that children can be held in custody — saying that Flores "precipitated a destabilizing migratory crisis."

In June, the Justice Department filed a new challenge to the agreement. The American Civil Liberties Union argued that detention cannot be used as a deterrent, and said that removing the agreement would violate the civil liberties of detained migrants.

On Wednesday, a group of 247 migrants turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents near Antelope Wells, N.M., reported the Albuquerque Journal

The remote area, in the boot-heel of New Mexico, was near the forward operating base where a 7-year-old girl who died at a hospital in El Paso, was held after she, along with her father and 161 other people, was apprehended. 

The girl, Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, died in the intensive care unit of the hospital after she was flown from the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, New Mexico, hours after her father reported that she was sick and vomiting. Her death has prompted a Congressional and internal investigation, and new guidelines were published on how the agency would notify officials and the public when someone dies in CBP custody. 

Weeks later, Yuma Sector agents reported that they detained 306 Central Americans in a 24-hour period, including a group of 242 people near Lukeville, Ariz. and a group of 64 people on the Tohono O'odham Nation.

The detentions follow a long-term trend as large groups of Central Americans, including families traveling with children, have turned themselves over the Border Patrol in bids to seek asylum in the United States. 

As U.S. Customs and Border Protection has tried to limit how many people enter through the U.S. via recognized border crossings, Border Patrol has seen an increasing number of people crossing through the desert. 

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In some cases, people are clambering over bollard fences or slipping beneath metal panels, or in the case of Lukeville, Ariz., walking to remote stretches beyond the port where the border wall gives way to "Normandy" barriers intended to stop only vehicles.

This may be the largest family group apprehended by Yuma Sector agents, though apprehensions have increased dramatically since 2000 when federal officials reported apprehending nearly 1.7 million people. In 2016, CBP apprehended nearly 416,000 people, and in 2017, apprehensions dropped to a 40-year low to around 311,000 people.

In the last two years, the number of families turning themselves over to Yuma Sector agents has increased 140 percent, from 6,074 to more than 14,500. While fiscal 2017 was a historically low year for apprehensions across the entire southwest border, this represents a dramatic shift from even 2016, when around 6,200 families were picked up in the Yuma Sector. 

Similarly, the number of unaccompanied minors coming to the Yuma Sector has also rapidly increased. In 2016, agents reported apprehended 3,266 unaccompanied minors. In 2017, that number rose to 2,876, and in 2018, it rose again to 5,424. 

Overall, families traveling with children and children traveling without parents or guardians make up an increasing number of Border Patrol apprehensions, rising to nearly 40 percent in fiscal 2018. 

In the Yuma Sector, more than 76 percent of all apprehensions from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 were either families or unaccompanied minors, the highest rate in the country. In the Tucson Sector, around 19 percent of all apprehensions were one of those two groups. 

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CBP

Border Patrol agents in the Yuma Sector 'processing' the group of 376 Central Americans who were apprehended on Monday.