Migrant groups are abandoned in Arizona desert
PHOENIX — Smugglers in recent weeks have been abandoning large groups of Guatemalan and other Central American migrants in Arizona’s harsh cactus-studded Sonoran Desert near the border with Mexico, alarming Border Patrol officials who say the trend is putting hundreds of children at risk.
Collectively, more than 1,400 migrants have been left by smugglers in the broiling desert — or in one case in a drenching thunderstorm — in remote areas by the border since Aug. 20. One group was as large as 275 people.
“We’ve seen large groups in the past, but never on this scale,” Tucson-based Border Patrol Agent Daniel Hernandez said. “It’s definitely a serious concern because their safety is being put in jeopardy.”
Hernandez said the latest case involved 61 people rescued by agents last week from rising floodwaters caused by unusually heavy rains in an isolated area and “it could have been a much, much worse situation if the rain continued.”
Unlike Texas, where people turn themselves in on the banks of the Rio Grande, the smugglers in Arizona have been dumping groups of migrant families on a remote dirt road running along the southern limit of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument west of the Lukeville border crossing with Mexico. Summer temperatures there can soar close to 120 degrees.
The migrants are sometimes provided with food and water, but not always, and they often require medical care for back and ankle injuries or lacerations.
The traffickers have “no regard for the safety and well-being of these families,” Tucson Sector Chief Rodolfo Karisch said last week.
Two larger groups of migrants from Guatemala and Honduras were also found abandoned last week near Yuma. Border Patrol officers said 108 people were found just before midnight Oct. 2 a half-mile west of the San Luis Port of Entry and five hours later, agents apprehended 56 Central Americans a mile east of the same border crossing.
Though Mexican men traveling without relatives once made up the bulk of the migrants, Guatemalans and other Central Americans traveling in families or as unaccompanied minors are now the norm. Of the more than 90,000 migrants traveling in families who were apprehended during the 11-month period, close to half were from Guatemala. The rest were from Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico.
More than 1,400 migrants — mostly from Central America — have been left by smugglers in terrain like this near Lukeville, Ariz. Summer temperatures in the desert can reach 120 degrees.