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Ajo BP agents detain 325 people as part of long-term trend in remote Arizona wilderness

Ajo-area Border Patrol agents encountered 325 Central Americans who entered the U.S. and surrendered to the agents west of Lukeville, Ariz. on Thursday morning. 

A helicopter crew with Air and Marine Operations went to investigate a campfire spotted by a surveillance camera, and the crew discovered the group, said a Border Patrol spokesman. 

The group included 150 children, including 32 who were traveling without a parent and guardian, the spokesman said. 

The group told agents that they traveled to the remote area by buses and trucks on Mexico Federal Highway 2, which parallels the U.S.-Mexico border, and were dropped off less than 50 yards from the border. Once the entire group arrived, they crossed together at 8 a.m. to await authorities, the spokesman said. 

Agents used vans and trucks and transported the group 15 miles to a "staging area" where buses could transport the group to the Ajo station for processing, the spokesman said. 

This follows a long-term trend in the Lukeville area that began last September, where large groups of migrants are transported by bus to the remote area, and cross en mass to immediately turn themselves over to U.S. Border Patrol agents and request asylum.

The Tucson Sector alone has reported three groups, including this one, totaling 650 people this year, the spokesman said. 

TucsonSentinel.com requested a breakdown of the countries of origin for all 325 immigrants, but in this case, the Tucson Sector Border Patrol said "We do not have the demographics available for release regarding the specific breakdown of nationalities."

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And, while on Jan. 30, a spokesman noted that most of people entering sought "some kind of protected status," this time the Tucson Sector referred TucsonSentinel.com to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services "for further information." 

As in earlier statements, the agency noted that trained Department of Homeland Security medical staff were brought out to screen the group for health conditions, a change in policy that was ushered in after two children died while in Border Patrol custody in December. 

Medical staff, including a physician, screened the group, and discovered that a 5-year-old child might have chicken pox, and that a 12-year-old child had a skin infection. Both children were sent to a local hospital for treatment while the rest of the group was processed, he said. 

From October to January, the number of family units crossing into the United States through the Tucson Sector has increased 231 percent over the same period last fiscal year, according to agency statistics. A year earlier, the agency faced a "surge" of 142 percent from 2017. 

Overall, 8,797 people have come into the U.S. states in 53 large groups, arriving in not only the Yuma and Tucson Sectors, but also the El Paso Sector, which covers the border from the Arizona-New Mexico border to just past the city of El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley Sector, which covers the southern tip of Texas to Louisiana. 

CBP said on Twitter that January border statistics show a "sustained, high volume of families and unaccompanied children from Central America illegally crossing along the SW Border." This year, Border Patrol agents encountered 58 "large groups" of 100 people or more, compared to only 13 a year earlier. 

And, apprehension data from CBP bears this out. In January, nearly 61 percent of apprehensions were either family units or unaccompanied children, though this is slightly down from December. 

The agency also continues to worry about how this shift affects how agents patrol the remote area of the Organ Pipe Cactus National wildlife refuge in Southern Arizona. 

"For the next several hours, agents patrolling other areas were reassigned to provide security, care, and transportation for the group," the spokesman said. 

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A group of 325 people from Central America, including 150 children, crossed into the United States near Lukeville, Ariz., part of a long-term trend of people entering the U.S. in remote areas in large groups.

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