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Report Details Border Insecurity In Tucson Sector


Report Details Border Insecurity In Tucson Sector

A report released Thursday by the human rights organization, Washington Office on Latin America, outlines in concrete terms security challenges and the life-and-death struggles of migrants along the Arizona-Mexico border. 

One of the key findings: In fiscal year 2013, ending in September, apprehensions nationwide of immigrants crossing the border illegally were up 15 percent. Most of the increase has occurred in south Texas, and most of the migrants were from Central America. While the Border Patrol maintains they apprehended 87 percent of would-be crossers, other data argues that the apprehension rate is closer to 50 percent. 

The report finds that smuggling corridors in southern Arizona have been completely taken over by organized crime in Mexico. In the past,  polleros or coyotes may have been a loose, “mom and pop” operation, charging around $3,000 to bring a migrant into the U.S. These days costs have skyrocketed, and no smuggler can operate without paying a share of their earnings to someone likely associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Organized crime groups’ control of illegal cross-border activity is complete, according to numerous testimonies. It is virtually impossible for a migrant to attempt to cross alone or without paying a fee or using a cartel-approved pollero.

The organized crime group now controls much of the northern border from Tijuana, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. As a result, the report finds, violence levels have dropped significantly with double-digit drops in homicides and violent crime in southern Arizona, and little or no so-called “spillover violence.”

Cartel dominance may also be responsible for the fact that there has been no drop in the amount of drugs trafficked across the border in recent years. There’s been what the report calls a “flood” of methamphetamine, especially in liquid form. Most comes from Michoacan where ports receive chemical precursors from Asia. Researchers say production there is growing and it is the principal source of the drug for U.S. users.

The Tucson sector continues to see a high number of migrant deaths in the desert and to field distress calls from migrants close to death. Between 2012 and 2013 the Border Patrol reported a 37 percent increase in rescues: 

Some were migrants taking advantage of 22 rescue beacons that Border Patrol has installed throughout the sector’s 90,000 square miles. Even more appeared to be benefiting from improvements in mobile phone coverage: 911 calls are leading to an increasing number of rescues.

Deportations across the Arizona border continue at a high rate, and many of the immigrants attempting to cross back into the U.S. are likely to be these deportees.  And, despite new regulations designed to create more humanitarian conditions for deportations, the report finds that many take place in the middle of the night and to remote locations with few services: 

The risk is far greater when the deportations occur in the middle of the night, a practice that U.S. agencies inexplicably continue to carry out in Nogales and at many other ports of entry. According to Mexican immigration officials, Monday through Friday, at any time between 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., a bus regularly arrives at the DeConcini Port of Entry with a load of migrants coming from detention centers throughout the state.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations on security upgrades for the U.S. and Mexico. They call for an upgrading of ports of entry to improve screening for drug traffic, an increase in southbound checks to avoid money and guns going south from Arizona, the installation of more rescue beacons in the Tucson sector to avoid migrant deaths, a halt to nighttime deportations, and a de-escalation in the use of force against migrants. 

Finally the report recommends that the Mexican government investigate and punish official corruption that allows abuse of migrants as they travel through Mexico.

Alisa Barba was a senior editor for the Fronteras Desk from From 2010 to 2014.