Smugglers are steering migrants into the remote Arizona desert, posing new Border Patrol challenges

by Joshua Brown
Borderland Migration

Smugglers are guiding migrants into the remote expanses of the Arizona desert, creating fresh challenges for the Border Patrol’s enforcement efforts. These agents directed a group of young men from Senegal to await in the limited shade offered by desert shrubs while they assisted a more vulnerable assembly of migrants—a family consisting of three young Indian children—into a van. The journey to a shaded field intake center was undertaken amid blistering triple-digit temperatures, reaching as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.7 degrees Celsius). These migrants are part of the numerous individuals who have embarked on a challenging journey through the sun-scorched landscape and open storm gates of the border wall to reach U.S. soil. They are treading a remote route within the sprawling expanse of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an area renowned for its desolation and perilous conditions within the Arizona borderlands.

As the mercury surged, smugglers adopted a new strategy by steering migrants from Africa and Asia toward this rugged terrain to seek asylum. This sudden shift has turned the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which oversees this territory, into the most heavily trafficked sector along the U.S.-Mexico border, marking the first time since 2008 that it has held this distinction. The influx includes individuals from far-flung nations like China, Pakistan, and Mauritania, allured by social media messages directing them to this alternative pathway that commences in Nicaragua. Ecuador, Bangladesh, and Egypt also contribute to the surging numbers, alongside the more traditional border-crossers hailing from Mexico and Central America.

Chief Justin De La Torre, a senior official within the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, elucidated the current situation by stating, “Right now we are encountering people from all over the world.” This surge has caused an urgent predicament, prompting the Border Patrol to collaborate with other agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration. Their collective goal is to expedite the process of moving migrants from exposed conditions into processing centers swiftly.

During a recent visit to the area, journalists from Big Big News observed nearly 100 migrants arriving within a mere four-hour timeframe near the Lukeville, Arizona border wall within the Organ Pipe vicinity. Temperatures soared to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius) as this influx occurred. The subsequent morning revealed an even larger assembly of several hundred migrants lining up along the border wall to voluntarily surrender themselves.

One Senegalese man, visibly joyful, expressed his feelings in limited English as he traversed the desert floor after receiving water and snacks from Tom Wingo, a volunteer in humanitarian aid. This man’s words encapsulated his sentiment, “Welcome to America, that’s good person.” The summer season’s storm gates within the towering steel border wall remained open since mid-June due to the monsoon rains, allowing migrants to enter even when gates were officially closed. They employed various methods, such as breaking locks or exploiting gaps in the wall’s structure.

The Border Patrol’s Ajo Station, situated approximately a half-hour drive north of the border, encountered substantial groups of migrants during the initial August weekend. One of these groups comprised 533 individuals hailing from 17 diverse countries, all within the area encompassing the national monument. This region consists of rugged terrain populated by cacti, creosote bushes, and whip-like ocotillo plants. As a result of these developments, the Tucson Sector recorded 39,215 arrests during July, indicating a 60% rise from the preceding month of June. The sudden surge has been attributed to misleading advertisements propagated by smugglers, falsely portraying this corridor as an easier point of entry where release into the United States is more likely.

Upon arrival, migrants are initially taken to an intake center where Border Patrol agents gather pertinent details such as names and countries of origin before transferring them to the Ajo Station, located around 30 miles (48 kilometers) away via a two-lane state highway. U.S. government figures attest to a 33% increase in arrests for illegal border crossings along the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border from June to July. This trend contradicts the decrease observed after the implementation of new asylum restrictions in May. The administration of President Joe Biden attributes the current figures to a balanced approach that simultaneously expands legal pathways while penalizing those who enter the country unlawfully.

De La Torre emphasized that a considerable number of migrants within this region seek asylum, a complex process made even more challenging due to recent restrictions. The Ajo Station’s jurisdiction presently stands as the busiest within the broader Tucson Sector. This area encompasses both the Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge border regions, characterized by their remote and inhospitable nature, scarce water sources, and limited shelter. Among these areas lies the Devil’s Highway region, notorious for the tragic fate of 14 border crossers in 2001 who perished after being abandoned by smugglers.

Migrant rescues performed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) through air and land operations have surged during the current year. A total of 28,537 rescues were recorded in the ten months ending on July 31, a notable increase from the 22,075 rescues documented in the twelve-month period concluding on September 30, 2022. The month of July alone witnessed 2,776 migrant rescues.

This trend persisted into August, exemplified by a particularly busy day when a Black Hawk helicopter executed a high-altitude rescue of a 15-year-old Guatemalan boy from a remote mountainous region in southern Arizona. Shortly thereafter, the helicopter was deployed once more to save a Guatemalan man who had dialed 911 from the expansive Tohono O’odham Nation area situated just east of the Organ Pipe region.

Humanitarian organizations have faced their own set of challenges in light of this influx. Tom Wingo, a retired schoolteacher affiliated with Samaritanos Sin Fronteras (Samaritans Without Borders), is emblematic of such efforts. He routinely visits the border, replenishing water stations and providing migrants with essential items such as hats, bandanas, snacks, and chilled bottled water. Wingo’s focus extends to those who are particularly susceptible to the extreme heat, including pregnant and nursing women as well as the elderly. His dedication is evidenced by his aid to an elderly diabetic woman from India who was on the brink of shock. On a busy day, Wingo facilitated her transfer to the Border Patrol’s intake center for medical attention, resulting in her subsequent recovery at a hospital in Phoenix.

Tragically, not all migrants survive this arduous journey. In July alone, the remains of 43 individuals suspected of attempting to cross the border were discovered in southern Arizona. Of this total, around half were recently deceased. Human Borders, a non-profit organization collaborating with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office, is involved in tracking and mapping these figures. Among the fatalities were Hilda Veliz Maas de Mijangos, a 36-year-old woman from Guatemala City, and Ignacio Munoz Loza, a 22-year-old man from the Mexican state of Jalisco. Both succumbed to the effects of extreme heat.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Borderland Migration

What challenges are Border Patrol agents facing in the Arizona desert?

Border Patrol agents are contending with the influx of migrants, guided by smugglers, who traverse the scorching Arizona desert, including vulnerable families with young children. These migrants follow remote corridors, including the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is known for its desolation and danger.

Why has the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector become the busiest?

The Tucson Sector has become the busiest due to a sudden surge of migrants from diverse countries like China, Pakistan, and Mauritania, drawn to the area through misleading information propagated by smugglers. The sector has seen a significant increase in apprehensions, marking the first time since 2008 that it has become the busiest sector along the U.S.-Mexico border.

How are Border Patrol and other agencies addressing the situation?

Border Patrol is collaborating with other agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration, to swiftly move migrants from harsh conditions into processing centers. This collaboration aims to mitigate the challenges posed by the surge of migrants in need of assistance.

What challenges do migrants face during their journey?

Migrants endure extreme conditions, including triple-digit temperatures and perilous desert terrain. They navigate open storm gates in the border wall, sometimes breaking locks or finding gaps in the structure to enter the U.S. soil. The storm gates have been open due to monsoon rains, enabling migrants to cross even when gates are officially closed.

What efforts are being made to aid migrants in need?

Humanitarian groups, such as Samaritans Without Borders, provide essential aid to migrants, offering water, snacks, and supplies like hats and bandanas. Volunteers like Tom Wingo focus on assisting vulnerable individuals, such as pregnant women and the elderly, who are at greater risk due to the extreme heat.

What has been the impact on migrant rescues along the border?

Migrant rescues have increased significantly, with both air and land operations conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The number of rescues has surged in comparison to previous periods, indicating the growing challenges posed by the migrant influx and the need for heightened rescue efforts.

What are the consequences of the migration surge?

Tragically, not all migrants survive the journey through the harsh desert conditions. The remains of suspected border crossers, including individuals from Guatemala and Mexico, have been discovered in southern Arizona. Humanitarian organizations track and map these fatalities to highlight the risks migrants face in attempting to cross the border.

More about Borderland Migration

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Carla82 September 1, 2023 - 9:00 am

wait, migrants trekking in triple-degree heat? that’s cray cray, hope they get proper help!

JohnDoe September 1, 2023 - 1:55 pm

oh man this desert border thing sounds sooo tough, those agents n volunteers are like heroes tbh

CryptoFanatic September 1, 2023 - 4:12 pm

tucson sector blowin up, migrants from all over, this is some real chaos, hope things get under control soon!

AutoEnthusiast September 1, 2023 - 10:44 pm

whoa, this ain’t about cars but dang, those migrants facin such dangers, gotta give ’em some respect for survivin this ordeal!

EcoWarrior September 1, 2023 - 11:20 pm

nature takin a hit too, those storm gates wrecked by heavy rain, hope they figure somethin out for both migrants and the environment.


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