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DIGGING DEEPER: Southern Arizona sees surge in Border Patrol apprehensions

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TUCSON (KVOA) - There has been a recent surge in the number of people caught illegally crossing the border in southern Arizona.

Officials say this has made things especially dangerous for Border Patrol agents and the people they capture.

"I think it's very concerning to the agents when you see the apprehensions go up, especially during the pandemic," said Art Del Cueto, the president of Local 4255 and the Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council.

He works in the Tucson Sector that covers 262 border miles between the United States and Mexico.

It's one of the busiest in the country both in apprehensions and marijuana seizures.

But how bad have things been since the start of the pandemic?

In February, agents apprehended 5,100 people. In March, the numbers remained the same at 5,100.

In April, the numbers dropped to 2,600. Then in May apprehensions went up slightly to 3,000.

But, in June apprehensions increased by nearly 50 percent to 4,658. That is almost to the same level as February and March.

"I think a lot of it has to do with our agents, who were detailed in certain positions, are now back out there in the field," Del Cueto said.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they have nearly 4,000 agents working in nine stations that make up the Tucson sector.

Not only are they seeing an increase in apprehensions, but Del Cueto said "what I've been seeing and from talking to the agents out in the field, there's been an increase in rescues out there."

Alan Regaldo also works in the Tucson Sector. He said, so far this fiscal year, to date, they've had over 1,000 rescues.

"The Border Patrol is really good at providing these life-saving resources in the desert," he said.

Del Cueto said during one recent rescue, the agents took turns carrying an undocumented immigrant out of the sweltering desert.

"Once they brought him to safety and he was at the hospital, then they discovered he had COVID(-19)," Del Cueto said. "The last thing on their mind was if this individual could infect them or their families. What the agents were going though was, 'Hey, let's save this individual.'"

The agents did just that.

Del Cueto said the area that is seeing the most apprehensions is on the Tohono O'odham Nation, southwest of Tucson.

"There's not much of a wall there. There's not that much of a structure," he said. "Those are the areas where we've seen more and more individuals trying to enter the country illegally."

Officials said the people being apprehended are no longer asking for asylum.

Authorities say it is becoming even more dangerous for the agents because those who are crossing illegally know, if they're caught, they will be sent back instead of being released in the United States, like those asking for asylum.

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

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