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.

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