Illegal crossings surge in remote areas as Congress and the White House weigh major asylum limits

by Gabriel Martinez
Border Crossings

The surge in illegal border crossings in remote areas has become a pressing concern as Congress and the White House contemplate substantial restrictions on asylum policies. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, concrete-filled steel columns bear witness to the persistent attempts to breach the barriers. Repair dates are etched on these columns, serving as a testament to the Border Patrol’s efforts to mend illicit openings. However, as soon as one breach is fixed, another column is compromised, allowing large groups of migrants to enter, often with no Border Patrol agents in sight.

This particular breach spans approximately 30 miles along a rugged gravel road west of Lukeville, an Arizona town characterized by an official border crossing, a restaurant, and a duty-free shop. Most of the repair dates on these columns trace back to spring, coinciding with the period when this flat desert region, adorned with saguaro cacti, witnessed a surge in illegal border crossings.

A recent Border Patrol tour in Arizona, attended by various news organizations, including The Big Big News, revealed some improvements in custody conditions and processing times. However, the overwhelming influx of migrants and the resulting chaos at various border locations have exacerbated frustration with the Biden administration’s immigration policies. This has put substantial pressure on Congress to forge a consensus on asylum reform. The escalating numbers have compelled both the White House and certain congressional Democrats to consider significant limitations on asylum policies, potentially as part of a broader deal tied to Ukraine aid.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently concluded closed-door discussions with congressional leaders, while dozens of migrants from Senegal, Guinea, and Mexico walked along the Arizona border wall, which was constructed during Donald Trump’s presidency, seeking to surrender to Border Patrol agents. Among them was a Mexican woman accompanied by her two daughters and five grandchildren, aged 2 to 7, who had been dropped off by a bus in Mexico and guided to the border.

The dates when wall breaches were repaired are typically grouped together, with white lettering standing out against rust-colored steel. One cluster displayed five dates from April 12 to October 3. On a recent inspection, agents discovered a breach on a column that had been repaired twice before, first on October 31 and again on December 5.

Smuggling organizations swiftly remove several inches from the bottom of 30-foot steel poles, a process that can take as little as half an hour. These altered columns then sway like cantilever swings, creating ample space for large groups to pass through. Although welders often attach metal bars horizontally to prevent swinging, there are still plenty of other locations where breaches occur.

Agents explain that it can take up to an hour to drive from Lukeville along the gravel road to identify these breaches, a significant portion of time when they are already preoccupied with processing numerous migrants in custody. This diversion of resources can lead to monitoring lapses, leaving the border vulnerable to breaches.

According to Troy Miller, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the daily influx of arrivals is “unprecedented,” with some days seeing over 10,000 illegal crossings in December alone. In response to migrants riding freight trains through Mexico and disembarking just before entering the U.S., CBP suspended cross-border rail traffic in the Texas cities of Eagle Pass and El Paso. The Lukeville border crossing and a pedestrian entry in San Diego have also been closed to allocate more officials to manage the migrant influx.

Arrests for illegal border crossings have exceeded 2 million in each of the U.S. government’s last two fiscal years. This trend reflects technological advancements that have facilitated global mobility, coupled with various factors compelling people to leave their homes, such as wealth inequality, natural disasters, political repression, and organized crime.

Miller emphasizes that addressing this issue goes beyond CBP and the Border Patrol, involving other agencies responsible for long-term detention and asylum screenings. He also suggests that Mexican authorities need to play a more active role in addressing breaches in the border wall.

Arrest statistics in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which includes Lukeville, have surpassed all nine sectors along the Mexican border, with the exception of June, from May to October. However, the demographic makeup of these arrests differs significantly from the past. Arrests of people in families have increased dramatically, reaching nearly 72,000 in the Tucson sector from October 1 through December 9, which is more than nine times the same period in the previous year. Moreover, arrests of non-Mexican nationals have exceeded 75,000, nearly quadrupling the previous year’s figure and accounting for over half of all sector arrests.

Notably, the Tucson sector has seen over 9,000 arrests of Senegalese nationals from October 1 to December 9, with arrests of individuals from Guinea and India each surpassing 4,000. Agents have encountered migrants from approximately 50 Eastern Hemisphere countries.

Agents who apprehend migrants near the border wall transport them to Lukeville to initiate the processing, involving photographing them with a mobile phone. From there, they are driven about 45 minutes to a station in Ajo, which was designed for 100 people but housed 325 individuals on a recent Friday. While some migrants are bused to other Border Patrol sectors, most are sent to Tucson, approximately a two-hour journey away.

Some migrants are flown to the Texas border for processing, while others are released within two days, as mandated by a court order in the Tucson sector. CBP policy dictates that detention should not exceed 72 hours. Most released migrants are provided notices to appear in immigration courts, which currently face a backlog of over 3 million cases. However, some individuals may be detained for a longer period by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The current situation has ignited discussions in Congress that could result in the most significant immigration legislation since 1996. Potential changes under consideration include expanded mandatory detention and a broader application of a rule to raise the thresholds for initial asylum screenings. While this higher screening standard has been implemented for tens of thousands of migrants since May, after they enter the country illegally, it is not currently applied in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector due to the exceptionally high flow of migrants.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Border Crossings

What is the current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border?

The current situation at the U.S.-Mexico border is marked by a surge in illegal border crossings, with daily arrivals topping 10,000 some days in December.

What measures have been taken to address the border challenges?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made efforts to improve custody conditions and processing times, but the overwhelming flow of migrants has strained resources. CBP has suspended cross-border rail traffic in some Texas cities, and border crossings have been temporarily closed to allocate more officials.

How have the demographics of border apprehensions changed?

Arrests of people in family units have surged, reaching nearly 72,000 in the Tucson sector from October to December, compared to the same period in the previous year. Arrests of non-Mexican nationals have also increased significantly, exceeding 75,000.

What are some factors contributing to the surge in illegal crossings?

Several factors, including wealth inequality, natural disasters, political repression, and organized crime, have prompted people to leave their homes and attempt illegal border crossings. Technological advancements have also increased global mobility.

What potential changes are being discussed in Congress regarding immigration policies?

Congress is considering significant immigration legislation, which may involve expanded mandatory detention and a broader application of a rule to raise the thresholds for initial asylum screenings. These changes could represent the most significant immigration reform since 1996.

More about Border Crossings

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • [The Big Big News](Insert link when available)
  • [Biden administration’s immigration policies](Insert link when available)
  • [Ukraine aid](Insert link when available)
  • [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas](Insert link when available)
  • [Border Patrol](Insert link when available)
  • [Donald Trump’s presidency](Insert link when available)
  • [CBP policy](Insert link when available)
  • [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement](Insert link when available)
  • [Immigration courts backlog](Insert link when available)
  • [1996 immigration legislation](Insert link when available)

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NewsJunkie22 December 25, 2023 - 3:48 pm

immigration policy makin’ people go craazyy. Numbers go up, up, up! Needa fix it now!

BorderWatcher December 25, 2023 - 4:20 pm

Surprised they not fixin’ those columns better, keeps gettin’ sawed, melted, chiseled. Gotta stop that.

Reader45 December 25, 2023 - 6:15 pm

wow, dat border situation sounds pretty bad huh. Lotsa peeps tryin 2 cross. Need sum big changes.

StatsNerd December 26, 2023 - 3:29 am

Arrests, arrests, arrests! Crazy numbers, like never before. Need more stats!

AsylumHopeful December 26, 2023 - 4:38 am

These asylum changes, sound harsh, but maybe sumthin needed? Tough situation.


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