Border wait times increase in San Luis
Holidays, caravan concerns cited
SAN LUIS, Ariz. – Seven hours to cross the border?
That’s how long Alonso Fernandez said he had to wait in line last week to cross the border from San Luis Rio Colorado.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials disputes that wait times are that long. Still, people who routinely travel between the two countries are used to waiting in line at the U.S. port of entry at San Luis, Ariz., at this time of year.
That’s because there’s more cross-border traffic, owing to the holiday season and the fact that thousands of agricultural workers are traveling from Mexico to work in fields in the Yuma area.
But last month the issue of wait times was further complicated by the closure of two of the eight vehicle lanes leading from Mexico to the San Luis I port.
Concrete barriers were placed in the two lanes and concertina wire was extended along the border fence as part of Operation Secure Line, a joint mission by Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. troops to fortify the crossing in anticipation of the arrival of caravans of Central American migrants seeking U.S. asylum.
Fernandez, a San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., resident who commutes daily to work in the Yuma area, says his time waiting in line has increased owing to the arrival of the migrants. He said the problem was at its worst last weekend, when he got in line at midnight Sunday and waited until 7:35 a.m. Monday to cross the border.
“I live in Mexico because my wife still doesn’t have her (U.S.) residency documents. My idea was to go to Somerton to sleep a couple of hours in my parents’ house before going to work,” said Fernandez, who works for a farm machinery rental company.
“But I couldn’t do it. I even showed up late to work” because of the border crossing wait time.
The situation was almost as bad on Wednesday, when, he said, it took him six hours to cross the border.
“I don’t know what is happening, but I have seen this since the caravans began,” said Fernandez, adding he may end up staying every night in Somerton rather than commute.
Justin Winburn, a spokesman for CBP at the San Luis port, discounted a wait time of seven hours to cross the border. Still, he conceded that delays in crossing the border are to be expected in the winter.
“The increase in the wait times is typical at this time of year, and can be attributed to the return traffic during the weekend after the Thanksgiving holiday.”
The daily commutes by agricultural workers to the Yuma area adds to the wait times, he added.
“We recommend that people who travel north to the United States anticipate possible increases in wait times because of the lane closures,” and that they plan their trips accordingly, Winburn said.
U.S. law allows foreign nationals to seek asylum in this country on the grounds of fleeing persecution, political violence or human rights violations at home. They must be physically present in the United States or arrive at any U.S. port of entry to make an asylum claim. But that is only the first step in what may be an application process of many months that involves submitting to background checks and undergoing interviews with asylum officers with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.
Some migrants traveling in caravans from Central America have stopped in San Luis Rio Colorado, with plans of presenting asylum claims at San Luis I. Most, however, have continued on to the Baja California border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, where they have sought asylum at U.S. ports there.
About 100 Central Americans have arrived in San Luis Rio Colorado, where temporary shelters have been set up to accommodate them, city officials said.
At present there currently are no Central American migrants in Los Algodones, Baja Calif., although a group of nearly 20 traveling independently of any caravan arrived in September with the intent of making asylum claims at the Andrade port of entry, said Christian Camacho, the municipal delegate of Algodones.
That group ended up moving on to Tijuana, Camacho said, because “they realized that (Andrade) is a very small port of entry and they saw that it would be difficult to enter through here to the United States, that it would take more time to try to get (asylum).”
He said the caravans are opting to travel to larger ports of entry at large U.S. border cities in hopes their asylum claims can be processed more quickly, Camacho said.
“The migrants that are coming in the caravans have been well advised, and they know which border ports to travel to, and they go to those with greater ability to attend to them,” Camacho said. “Fortunately we haven’t had that problem with migrants here.”
In any case, Algodones has in place a contingency plan in which it can draw on 30 police officers to maintain order in the event of an arrival of a large group of migrants, he said.
“We depend a lot on tourism, we depend on our visitors, and they know that in Algodones they are safe and that they can come without any delays,” Camacho said.
No car lane restrictions are in place at the Andrade port of entry, although CBP said in a statement sent to the Yuma Sun that it would take appropriate step to handle a group of asylum seekers were one to arrive.
“CBP officers will appropriately process those who present themselves without documents or who are making asylum claims,” the statement said. “CBP will carefully manage resources and space. When the Border Patrol apprehends an adult alien or a family unit, we notify (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and transfer them to ICE as expeditiously as possible. When unaccompanied alien children are apprehended, they are referred to (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) for placement with a sponsor, often a family member or friend.”
The statement continued: “To effectively process trade and travel, address enforcement priorities, and appropriately process those who present themselves without documents or who are making asylum claims, CBP must carefully manage resources and space. CBP will take every necessary step to ensure that our dedicated law enforcement agents and officers are empowered and supported to meet these challenges.”
The lane barriers at San Luis I are similar to fortifications made at U.S. ports at San Ysidro, across from Tijuana, and in Calexico, across from Mexicali. Visiting the San Luis crossing last month, Petra Horne, CBP acting field operations director for Arizona, said the intent is to deter large groups of migrants from rushing through vehicle lanes to the United States.
“Given the recent events in Mexico, there is a concern that large groups will try to (rush through) the ports of entry, putting travelers and (port of entry) officers in danger and damaging infrastructure,” she said.
Last Sunday, hundreds of migrants tried to force their way through the San Ysidro port of entry across from Tijuana, prompting Border Patrol agents to fire tear gas to disperse them. CBP also closed that port, but reopened it later in the day.
Horne added that the fortifications notwithstanding, CBP was taking steps to ensure the continued legitimate flow of vehicles and pedestrians through the San Luis crossing.
The two lane closures at San Luis I will remain in effect temporarily but indefinitely, CBP officials said.
PEDESTRIAN LINES AT THE SAN LUIS, ARIZ., HAVE GROWN amid the agricultural harvest season in Yuma County.