TUCSON – Since June of this year, the United States Border Patrol has been seeing a surge in large groups of people illegally crossing the border southwest of Tucson, and there seems to be no end in sight to the border rush.
“The majority of the individuals that we’ve seen are from Central America, and they range anything from young children, to family units, to elder adults,” Agent Jacob Stukenberg told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.
Agent Stukenberg also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, dealing with the large groups they’ve been seeing near Ajo and Casa Grande, puts a significant strain on the agency.
“Because it requires a lot of agents and resources to be diverted to those areas to deal with these large groups that are coming across,” Stukenberg said.
On December 9th, agents stopped a group of 80 people, mostly Guatemalan nationals, who illegally entered the United States west of the Lukeville Port of Entry.
The week before that, agents working out of the Ajo and Casa Grande Border Patrol stations stopped two large Central American groups totaling 124 people.
“What we see typically is the smugglers decide where these individuals are crossing the border at. So, the smuggling organizations will send these individuals out into these extremely remote areas, and putting everybody’s lives in danger,” Stukenberg told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.
Back on September 4th, Border Patrol agents apprehended a group of 163 people at the Port of Lukeville.
Four days later, 121 people turned themselves over to authorities at the Ajo station.
Agent Stuckenberg also tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the area along the border near Ajo is a prime location for large groups to cross.
“The infrastructure that we have out there in the West Desert area, in Ajo and Casa Grande primarily, is going to be vehicle barrier fencing, which is obviously very easily gone through by an individual, versus the Nogales or say Douglas areas, where we have bollard-style fencing,” Stukenberg told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.
This is not the first time large groups illegally crossing have been caught in southern Arizona, but this time there is a difference.
“For instance, in the year 2000, we had significant amount of apprehensions here in Tucson sector – over 600-thousand. In those times, we did see large groups of individuals. However, the makeup of the groups that we’re seeing now is primarily from Central America.” Stukenberg told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.
For now, the Border Patrol says they will keep doing whatever they can to deal with the influx of large groups in the West Desert, as agents try to stay one step ahead of the people who profit from human trafficking.
“These smugglers that bring these individuals over do not have any regard for human life.” Stukenberg said.
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