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More than 260 migrants found in Arizona desert by Border Patrol

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More than 260 migrants found in Arizona desert by Border Patrol

  • A group of immigrants who surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol on Sunday.
    CBPA group of immigrants who surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol on Sunday.
  • The remote desert near Lukeville, Ariz. where groups of people have surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comThe remote desert near Lukeville, Ariz. where groups of people have surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol.

Large groups of immigrant families and unaccompanied minors from Central America continue to enter the United States through remote wilderness areas in southwest Arizona.

Two groups — 164 people and 100 others in another group, with each including families and children from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — surrendered to Border Patrol agents in the desert between Tucson and Yuma this week.

In the last three months, agents in both the Yuma Sector, which covers the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Arizona, straddling the Colorado River, and the Tucson Sector, which covers the rest of Arizona to the New Mexico line, have reported apprehending large groups of immigrants, some including more than people, often over the weekend. 

More than 1,200 people in "similar group sizes" have been apprehended in the past three months "all within the same general area" in the Tucson Sector near Lukeville, Ariz., about 110 miles southwest of Tucson, a spokesman for the Border Patrol said in a press release Thursday.

However, the agency has not publicly reported all of these groups. 

According to earlier press releases, 947 people traveling in eight large groups have been apprehended since July 28. 

This includes two groups who surrendered themselves to Border Patrol agents in a 24-hour period this week within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Wildlife Refuge, a 330,000-acre sanctuary that surrounds Lukeville and State Route 85. 

Mexico's Highway 2 runs parallel to the U.S. border in this region, and while the area is heavily crisscrossed by roads used by patrolling agents, and remote sensors, the border itself is marked by a "bollard" style fence designed to block vehicles. 

On Tuesday afternoon, agents encountered 164 people traveling as a group, west of the Lukeville Port of Entry. Early Wednesday morning, agents found a group of 100 people in the same area. 

Both groups included families and unaccompanied juveniles from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, ranging in age from 11 months to 59, the spokesman said. 

Just a week ago, Tucson Sector agents apprehended two large groups in just over an hour. 

On Sept. 16, a group of 102 people surrendered to Border Patrol agents. About an hour later, agents encountered another 91 people in the same area. Agents said that most of the people were traveling as families, including a one-year-old infant, but 11 children in the group were unaccompanied. 

"This is where our law enforcement mission quickly turns from enforcing immigration laws to preserving life by ensuring the welfare and well-being of these migrant families," said Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent Rodolfo Karisch. "Transnational criminal organizations are exploiting these immigrant families and demonstrating their blatant disregard for human life."

The area around Lukeville includes some of the state's most remote terrain, linking up to Mexico's own El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, with an additional 666,000-acres of wilderness that butts up against the Arizona-Mexico border and goes south to the Gulf of California.

And, area remains a deadly corridor for immigrants attempting to cross Arizona's deserts. In the area that surrounds the wildlife refuge, the remains of 17 people have been found so far in 2018. Since 2001, the bodies of 212 people have been discovered by officials and humanitarian groups.

While Tuesday's group is the largest apprehended in the Tucson Sector since July 28, last week Yuma Sector agents apprehended 275 people in just two days, most from Guatemala, said Justin Kallinger, a BP spokesman. 

Hailing from eight different countries, the groups included 209 people traveling as families, while 26 were unaccompanied minors, he said. 

Kallinger wrote that 20 of the people needed treatment for a range of conditions, including: "back and ankle injuries from being dropped off the border wall" as well as lacerations. Kallinger said that the groups were largely "give-ups" who crossed into the area near San Luis, Arizona where the sector is heavily defended with double-layer fencing, including sections that include 18-foot tall "bollard" fences. 

Kallinger also noted that some of the people arrested suffered from lice, and impetigo, a skin infection that affects infants and children. 

Earlier in the month, Yuma Sector agents said that they encountered 188 people from seven different countries attempting to cross into the United States, including 155 people traveling as families. Most were from Guatemala. 

"This daily crisis is taking manpower and resources from our border security mission and compelling us to redistribute them to a humanitarian mission," said Yuma Sector Chief Patrol Agent Anthony Porvaznik. 

Earlier this month, 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. 

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. 

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