Bor­der of­fi­cials are alarmed by mi­grants aban­doned in the desert

The Maui News - - WORLD - By ANITA SNOW The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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 halfmile 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.

While 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.

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.

Repub­li­can Sen. Jon Kyl of Ari­zona on Wed­nes­day asked Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary 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.

Randy Capps, re­search di­rec­tor for U.S. pro­grams at the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute think tank in Wash­ing­ton, said Thurs­day the smug­glers may be bring­ing the Cen­tral Amer­i­cans through Ari­zona be­cause it’s less pa­trolled than Texas. He noted that mi­grants trav­el­ing as fam­i­lies are likely to be re­leased much more quickly than lone adult trav­el­ers be­cause of lim­its on hold­ing chil­dren.

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 Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials charge that the sys­tem is rife with fraud and ground­less claims and have called for stricter stan­dards.

About eight of ev­ery 10 asy­lum-seek­ers pass an ini­tial screen­ing and are then ei­ther held in an im­mi­gra­tion de­ten­tion cen­ter 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.

Ali Noorani, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wash­ing­ton ad­vo­cacy group Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Fo­rum, said the gov­ern­ment doesn’t have the re­sources to deal with the wave of mi­grants and “should use some of that money to ad­dress the root causes of poverty and vi­o­lence in Gu­atemala and process the asy­lum cases in a fair man­ner.”

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 like the MS-13.

From Oct. 1, 2017 through Aug. 31, nearly dou­ble the num­ber of Gu­atemalans and more than twice as many Sal­vado­rans were ar­rested com­pared with the same 11-month pe­riod the year be­fore. The most re­cent statistics from the Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion agency show that ap­pre­hen­sions of peo­ple trav­el­ing in fam­i­lies and as un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors were also way up.

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.

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