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Numbers of families, unaccompanied kids crossing border doubles in Yuma Sector

In the last two days, Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents said that they have encountered 188 people attempting to cross into the United States, including 155 people traveling as families. 

From noon Tuesday to 9 a.m. Wednesday, agents in the area apprehended 23 groups of people from seven different countries, said Jose J. Garibay, a BP spokesman.

Of those, 149 people were from Guatemala, Garibay said. And, nearly all of those apprehended were either traveling as families or were unaccompanied minors. According to Garibay, 155 of those apprehended were families, while another 18 were identified as unaccompanied children, Garibay said. 

Recent data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows that the apprehension of both families and children traveling without a parent or guardian have increased dramatically in the last year, especially in the Yuma Sector, where the numbers of both groups have at least doubled. 

In fiscal year 2018, Yuma Sector agents apprehended 12,367 people traveling in what the agency calls "family units," a 128 percent increase over the same period last year. 

The number of unaccompanied minors has doubled, going from 2,534 to 5,060, according to figures from the agency. 

This means that relatively small Yuma Sector, which straddles the Arizona-California border, is outpacing nearly every other sector, falling only behind the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 22,000 children traveling alone, and more than 54,000 people traveling as families. 

In the Tucson Sector, which covers the rest of Arizona, around 3,860 people came as family units, while the agency said it intercepted nearly 4,624 children. 

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Large groups have also begun arriving in the Tucson Sector, mostly in the desert west of Lukeville, a tiny border town that sits within the remote desert of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

Last week, Tucson Sector agents announced they had encountered 163 people traveling as a group, hailing from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 

On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security released new apprehension numbers showing that in the last month, the number of people trying to enter the United States has increased 16 percent, rising from around 40,000 people in July to nearly 47,000 people in August. 

Much of this increase was driven by people entering as family units. 

DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton said that the August numbers showed a "a clear indicator that the migration flows are responding to gaps in our nation’s legal framework."

"While the overall numbers are consistent with an expected seasonal increase, the number of family units along the Southwest border increased 38 percent – 3,500 more than July and the highest August on record," Houlton said. "Smugglers and traffickers understand our broken immigration laws better than most and know that if a family unit illegally enters the U.S. they are likely to be released into the interior.  Specifically, DHS is required to release families entering the country illegally within 20 days of apprehension." 

The numbers from DHS also show that the Trump administration's crackdown on immigrant families, which ignited a public outcry and caused three separate civil rights lawsuits, had failed to blunt the number of people who attempted to cross into the United States, and that after a significant drop in the number of people crossing last year, apprehensions have returned to a seasonal patterns. 

In early May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Trump administration officials would seek to prosecute anyone who crossed the border under a "zero tolerance" policy.  

When a family was picked up by officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, mothers and fathers would be handed over to the Justice Department for prosecution while their children would be taken away to facilities maintained by Health and Human Services. 

In a 35 day period over the summer, U.S. officials took 2,342 children from their parents. 

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The Trump administration soon backtracked on the policy, but even months after a court-imposed deadline, at least 14 children under 5-years-old remain in and another 402 children above five years old remain in federal custody. 

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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CBP

A group of people apprehended by Border Patrol agents over the last 33 hours in the Yuma Sector.