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Border Roundup: Border crossings up in Texas

Humanitarian groups beginning to collect data in Texas have found that as migration patterns shift from Latin America to the U.S. border states, Texas may now be seeing more border crosser deaths than Arizona - even while illegal immigration is dropping overall. Many of these bodies are unidentified and a lack of centralization adds to the challenge of getting an accurate count, let alone identifying the remains - in face advocates say that in overwhelmed counties like Brooks County "local authorities…operate like those in the Arizona-Sonora region a decade ago." Overall migration has slowed as the U.S. economy struggles and the Mexican economy improved, but Texas "may be more geographically convenient" for people traveling from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, analysts say; border crossers may also be "heeding Arizona’s reputation for treacherous terrain and strict enforcement."

Politics and policy

While the Republican party tries to win back Hispanic voters, "tough on immigration governors" including Arizona's Jan Brewer and Alabama's Robert Bentley have gone silent or changed their public stance like Wisconsin's Scott Walker.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said cybersecurity "has come to affect almost every aspect of modern life" and will now be a top priority for her department. In her third annual State of Homeland Security address she also described the border as "secure" and said that "continued patrolling can only do so much, which is why it is time for immigration reform" which will address the reasons people cross the border illegally.

The sequester set to go into effect Friday includes budget cuts to border law enforcement agencies that "could significantly alter the economics and security of the region" despite recent studies that showed border communities as currently safe.

Those same looming budget cuts led U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release hundreds of illegal immigrants because detaining them will become unaffordable if cuts go into effect. After case reviews to retain "serious criminal offenders," those released still face removal proceedings and "less costly" measures of supervision including parole or home detention. Arizona Republicans including Gov. Jan Brewer, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake all released statements condemning the decision.

Law enforcement

Border Patrol reports that Tucson Sector agents seized more than one million dollars worth of narcotics this weekend in three separate incidents, including a total of 11 pounds of brown-tar heroin (estimated value $130,000). Nogales Station agents at the I-19 checkpoint stopped two Mexican nationals, each smuggling 4.5 pounds of brown-tar heroin on Friday. Nogales Station agents at the I-19 checkpoint apprehended a 23-year-old U.S. citizen who'd concealed 1.75 pounds of heroin underneath his clothes on Sunday. Also on Sunday Casa Grande Station agents discovered an abandoned 2004 Chevy Suburban with a load of 1,800 pounds of marijuana (estimated value $915,000) after following up on a citizen's tip. The vehicle had been reported stolen out of Avondale.

The Texas Department of Public Safety troopers can no longer shoot from helicopters unless they have been fired upon first. The policy, the only one of its kind, was recently announced by DPS Director Steve McCraw who said the change was not connected to an October car chase that left two Guatemalan immigrants dead and a third injured after a trooper fired from a helicopter on a vehicle suspected of smuggling drugs. No drugs were found but eight other occupants of the truck were arrested. The shooting is being investigated by both the Texas Rangers and the FBI. ACLU representatives said their public records requests are being blocked but they are pleased by the policy change.

Across the border

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman did not die in a shootout, a Guatemalan government spokesperson confirmed. In fact no trace of the rumored shootout in the northern Petan region where rumors of Guzman's death originated last week could be found. Guzman, who leads the Sinaloa cartel, has bounties of over $5 million on his head by U.S. and Mexican authorities and has been the subject of many rumored sightings since his 2001 escape from a Mexican maximum security prison.

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A new Human Rights Watch report reveals a policy of "enforced disappearances" carried out over the last six years by Mexican federal police who've received aid from the U.S. to battle drug cartels. Most of the cases involve "working-class men" and in some cases their abductors are known. Officials are still collecting names for the project, which represents a small percentage of those who've disappeared and the number of missing may be as high as 27,000. The drug war escalated significantly after President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and challenged the cartels with federal forces.

A group of rarámuri women in northern Mexico are uniting under the name "las multiplicadoras" to face down the growing violence they face on a daily basis. Studies show that as much as 90 percent of the women in these communities have experienced physical, verbal, psychological and sexual aggression. Now "las multiplicadoras" ("the multipliers") want to educate men and women in the area to break patterns of violence that have sometimes become normalized.

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

Tubes of heroin were discovered taped to a man's abdomen at the Interstate 19 checkpoint.

Border Patrol Activity

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

Wednesday, 20 Feb.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Dennis DeConcini Port apprehended Mexican national Selena Andrea Perez-Cruz, 18, when additional inspection revealed 13.4 ounces of heroin tucked inside her bra as she attempted to enter the U.S. through the pedestrian lane.

Friday, 22 Feb.

Nogales Station agents at the I-19 checkpoint stopped two Mexican nationals, each smuggling 4.5 pounds of brown-tar heroin

Saturday, 23 Feb.

Yuma Sector agents following footprints near Gila Bend discovered three suspects with seven bundles of marijuana (251 pounds, estimated value $125,500) hiding in a wash about 11 p.m. Saturday night.

Sunday, 24 Feb.

Nogales Station agents at the I-19 checkpoint apprehended a 23-year-old U.S. citizen who'd concealed 1.75 pounds of heroin underneath his clothes

Casa Grande Station agents discovered an abandoned 2004 Chevy Suburban with a load of 1,800 pounds of marijuana (estimated value $915,000) after following up on a citizen's tip. The vehicle had been reported stolen out of Avondale.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Lukeville Port apprehended Jose Luis Fuentes-Alvarado, a 24-year-old man from Mesa, after discovering six pounds of crystal methamphetamine (estimated value $98,000) inside the lining of an ice chest partially filled with seafood during secondary inspection of his Chevrolet sedan

Monday, 25 Feb.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Dennis DeConcini Port apprehended Maria Veronica Martinez, a 37-year-old woman from Fresno, Calif., when a drug dog alerted them to the presence of drugs during additional inspection as she attempted to enter the U.S. Eight pounds of methamphetamine (estimated value more than $123,000) were discovered wrapped around her torso.

Tuesday, 26 Feb.

Wellton Station agents retrieved 69 pounds of marijuana after a tip from someone who found the three bundles south of I-8 near Mile Post 96

Wednesday, 27 Feb.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the Dennis DeConcini Port apprehended Mexican national Karen Ashley Cedano Rojas, 18, when a drug dog alert triggered additional inspection that revealed 3.4 pounds of heroin (estimated value $47,000) tucked under her clothing as she attempted to enter the U.S. through the pedestrian lane.

Wellton Station agents the Cabaza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge followed footprints to 226 pounds of abandoned marijuana

Thursday, 28 Feb.

Wellton Station agents south of Gila Bend followed footprints to 291 pounds of abandoned marijuana (Wellton Statiosn's total over the three days of seizures was 586 pounds, estimated value $293,000)

Sources