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180,000 migrants picked up by Border Patrol in May; 38% had 'at least one prior encounter' this year

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180,000 migrants picked up by Border Patrol in May; 38% had 'at least one prior encounter' this year

Even as encounters plateaued nationwide, the numbers declined in Arizona's Tucson and Yuma sectors

  • A Border Patrol agent inside the tent meant for migrant children in Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA Border Patrol agent inside the tent meant for migrant children in Tucson.
  • A soccer field play area at a temporary facility for migrant children in Tucson. CBP began using the facility in April.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA soccer field play area at a temporary facility for migrant children in Tucson. CBP began using the facility in April.
  • A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer inside the tent meant for migrant children in Tucson.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comA U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer inside the tent meant for migrant children in Tucson.

Newly released data show that migrants were stopped 180,034 times across the southwestern border in May, and the majority were single adults who were immediately expelled from the United States under Title 42 — a policy ostensibly supported by the CDC that allows the agency to rapidly deport those who crossed into the U.S. after they traveled through a country with COVID-19 infections.

This policy, which relies on a 1944 public health law, was used by the Trump administration beginning March 2020 to push migrants out of the U.S., including thousands of asylum seekers who remained marooned in northern Mexico.

Because the policy has meant that people are quickly deported directly across the border, thousands have immediately attempted to try crossing again, driving up apprehension numbers. 

CBP said that agents immediately expelled 112,302 people under Title 42, and that the "large number of expulsions during the pandemic has contributed to a larger-than-usual number of non-citizens making multiple border crossing attempts." Of the roughly 180,000 people encountered by CBP officials, 38 percent in May were people who "had at least one prior encounter" in the previous 12 months, CBP said in a news release. 

This was significantly higher than previous years, when the average "re-encounter" rate—previously classified as a recidivism rate—was around 15 percent from 2014 to 2019, CBP said. Troy Miller, the acting commissioner for CBP, said in February that while more than 100,000 people were apprehended, this represented about 75,000 "unique individuals."

In the Tucson Sector, which covers the Arizona-Mexico border from the Yuma County line east to the border of New Mexico, agents encountered 19,902 people in May. This is a slight decline of about 2 percent from April, when agents found 20,281 people in Southern Arizona. 

The adjacent Yuma Sector, which straddles the Colorado River, saw a more significant decline — dropping nearly 12.5 percent from April to May.

Ducey declares 'crisis' while VP Harris says 'do not come'

Even as encounters between U.S. Border Patrol agents and migrants have declined in some sectors, overall apprehension numbers have instead plateaued after significant month-to-month increases under the Biden administration. Republican politicians, including Ariz. Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have declared a "crisis" on the border and declared emergencies in their states. In April, Ducey while accused the Biden administration of having its "head in the sand." 

Meanwhile, as Biden administration officials have begun untangling Trump-era policies, Vice President Kamala Harris went to Guatemala and Mexico. Following her meeting with Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei, Harris said that the Biden administration wants to "help Guatemalans find hope at home." 

"Do not come," Harris said. Later, she  added that she wanted to be clear to people "thinking about making that dangerous trek" to the southwestern border. "Do not come," she said. "Do not come." 

"The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border," Harris said. 

Since April 2020, the number of people encountered by U.S. Border Patrol agents along the southwestern border has dramatically increased, rising from 17,106 to 78,443 people in January under Trump administration. In the following three months, the number of encounters by Border Patrol grew by leaps and bounds, rising to 101,120 people in February to 173,348 people in March. By April, the number of encounters plateaued, rising just three percent. And, in May, the number of people encountered rose just one percent CBP said.

Of those, just 14 percent were families traveling with children, or children traveling without parents or guardians, the rest were single adults, according to new figures published Wednesday by CBP. And, nearly 83 percent of those taken into custody by agents were immediately expelled under Title 42, CBP said. The remainder would include people who were allowed to seek asylum under U.S. law,  and those who faced some form of prosecution under immigration law.

While apprehensions have shot up, the number of unaccompanied children encountered by Border Patrol agents has declined, dropping from a high of 621 kids per day in March, to around 400 this week, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Human Services. Since March, HHS has set-up dozens of shelters for unaccompanied minors, and this has CBP to decrease the number of children in its custody from an average of 2,895 kids in April to around 640 kids in May. The agency said that the time kids spent in CBP custody had also declined, from nearly four days to about 26 hours on average. 

In recent weeks, CBP has established two "soft-sided facilities," or large-scale tents to hold migrant families or children, including a facility in Tucson devoted to children, and one in Yuma for families. 

CBP credited the temporary facilities with this "sustained progress," and said that more than 350 officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were sent to "more efficiently and effectively verify claimed sponsors to support the reunification process."

As apprehensions level off, CBP officials continued to warn people about the dangers of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, saying that "smuggling organizations are abandoning migrants in remote and dangerous areas, leading to a dramatic rise in the number of rescues CBP performs." CBP said that in May the agency conducted 7,084 rescues nationwide, and that the number of rescues this year is already 35 percent above last year's total. 

On Thursday, Border Patrol's Tucson Sector warned of heat-related dangers as temperatures are expected to spike well-above 100 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. "The desert is vast, and it is treacherous," the agency warned. "When you cross illegally, you put your life in incredible peril."

The agency again said that anyone lost, or who needed help in the desert should immediately call 911. 

"Migrants who are injured or become lost and who have a cell phone must call 911," the agency said. "This is your single best chance for being rescued. If you call anyone else, you are wasting your battery. That cell phone battery is your life. Call 911." 

The agency warned that it is "physically impossible for the average person to carry sufficient water to avoid life-threatening dehydration over the course of several days in the desert," noting that in extreme heat, a person needs to consume two gallons of water per day, and each gallon weighs 8 pounds. 

Ducey seeks law enforcement from other states

In April, Ducey announced he would deploy 250 National Guardsmen to the border to "support local law enforcement," a move that left questions about what the soldiers would be doing along the border, and how a plan to have the troops deploy some cameras along the border would pull them away from their response to COVID-19 and major disasters. 

Ducey backed his announcement to deploy troops by moving to allocate up to $2,536,500 from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to help fund the Arizona National Guard border mission. An additional $200,000 was earmarked for the Search and Rescue Fund to support county sheriffs.

As CBP's numbers were published, Ducey and Abbott published a letter asking "fellow governors" to send "available law-enforcement resources" to their states. 

"When it comes to the Biden administration's open-borders disaster, our greatest need is for additional law enforcement officers and equipment," the governors wrote. They went further, arguing that these officers would be given the power to arrest people who cross into the U.S. without authorization, arguing that they would try to arrest people because "many of these crossings involve state-law crimes, such as criminal trespassing or smuggling of persons." 

This effort could run afoul of the 2012 Supreme Court decision over SB1070 that held that Arizona's attempt to put local law enforcement officers into the immigration enforcement business violates the enumerated powers of Congress and is preempted by federal statute. While Arizona law enforcement officers can seek to prosecute other violations, and ask about immigration status, they cannot implement their own immigration rules, the court ruled. 

"Given the staggering number of violations now occurring in Texas and Arizona, additional manpower from any state is needed from any state that can spare it," Ducey and Abbott wrote. 

Ducey highlighted his Border Strike Force, noting that the Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers had seized 284 pounds of fentanyl since its inception in 2015. CBP said that in May drug seizures were up 18 percent, and that this year, the agency had seized 7,450 pounds of fentanyl, including about 102 pounds of fentanyl at checkpoints alone. Last month, CBP said fentanyl seizures had "already surpassed those from all of Fiscal Year 2020, with 6,494 through April 2021 compared to 4,776 for all of Fiscal Year 2020." 

CBP said that seizures of methamphetamine and heroin were up, but that cocaine interceptions decreased 18 percent. 

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