Mi­grants aban­doned

Smug­glers putting peo­ple from Cen­tral Amer­ica at risk by leav­ing them in desert

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - WORLD - ANITA SNOW

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 50 C.

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 just west of the San Luis Port of En­try and five hours later, agents ap­pre­hended 56 Cen­tral Amer­i­cans 1.5 km east of the same bor­der cross­ing.

While Mex­i­can men trav­el­ling with­out rel­a­tives once made up the bulk of the mi­grants, Gu­atemalans and other Cen­tral Amer­i­cans trav­el­ling in fam­i­lies or as un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors are now the norm.

U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Con­trol En­force­ment in Ari­zona be­gan re­leas­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple Sun­day to await court dates, say­ing it didn’t have the ca­pac­ity to hold an “in­cred­i­bly high vol­ume” of mi­grant fam­i­lies show­ing up at the bor­der.

Ari­zona’s Repub­li­can Sen. Jon Kyl on Wed­nes­day asked De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Kirst­jen Nielsen and other of­fi­cials to in­ves­ti­gate ways of deal­ing with a wave of mi­grants he said was over­whelm­ing Yuma and other parts of south­ern Ari­zona. He said at a Se­nate hear­ing that he wor­ried about peo­ple be­ing threat­ened “by an enor­mous num­ber of il­le­gal en­trants ... some of whom may not be mak­ing asy­lum claims.”

Nielsen said she didn’t know how many of the mi­grants in south­ern Ari­zona had made asy­lum claims, but would look into it.

Un­der fed­eral law and in­ter­na­tional treaties, peo­ple can ob­tain asy­lum in the U.S. if they have a well-grounded fear of per­se­cu­tion in their coun­tries, but U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials charge that the sys­tem is rife with fraud and ground­less claims and have called for stricter stan­dards.

About eight of ev­ery 10 asy­lum­seek­ers pass an ini­tial screen­ing and are then ei­ther held in an im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion cen­tre or re­leased on bond into the U.S. while their cases wind through im­mi­gra­tion courts. Many claims are ul­ti­mately de­nied.

Her­nan­dez said the smug­glers in­structed the mi­grants to seek asy­lum or some other kind of U.S. pro­tec­tive sta­tus, but in­ter­views have in­di­cated they came to the U.S. to im­prove their eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion and were headed to places in­clud­ing Charles­ton, S.C., Oak­land, Calif., and Home­stead, Fla.

Cen­tral Amer­i­cans typ­i­cally cite vi­o­lence in their home­lands when ap­ply­ing for asy­lum claims. The re­cently ap­pre­hended mi­grants came from Hon­duras and El Sal­vador, which like Gu­atemala are home to deadly gangs such as MS-13.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol Se­nior Agent Sean King pa­trols a trail in Or­gan Pipe Cac­tus Na­tional Mon­u­ment near Lukeville, Ariz. Smug­glers in re­cent weeks have been aban­don­ing large groups of Gu­atemalan and other Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants in the desert near Ari­zona’s bound­ary with Mex­ico.

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