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Border leaders welcome Lukeville Port of Entry reopening, but call for more staff

The Lukeville Port of Entry is re-opening Thursday after being closed in early December. It’s a busy port that serves as the main thoroughfare for tourists traveling to Rocky Point from Arizona, and Mexican tourists traveling to Arizona.

Border officers closed the crossing indefinitely as Border Patrol agents responded to an uptick in migrants and asylum seekers arriving along the border nearby.

Luis Ramirez advises border community leaders on cross-border issues and says he welcomes the reopening. 

"But, what we’re hearing from the mayors, the counties, the NGOs is that, they’re overwhelmed," he said. "We haven't seen a dramatic drop in the number of people crossing the border seeking asylum, whether it's in Arizona, California's Jacumba area, or Eagle Pass Texas."

Ramirez says staffing must be increased — both at the ports of entry and among Border Patrol personnel. A CBP spokesperson said some port staff will continue to support Border Patrol efforts elsewhere. 

At the end of last year, border community leaders called on the U.S. government to bulk up the infrastructure of ports of entry to meet new needs of industry, tourism and asylum processing.

"There's the other issue that most ports were never designed to house large numbers of people for any extended period of time, from unaccompanied minors, to families," he said. 

The Morley Gate in Nogales will also resume operations Thursday. The small, pedestrian-only crossing is used mostly by locals in Nogales, Arizona and Sonora and has been closed since September, when the Mexican government shuttered operations for a renovation project on the infrastructure there.

Ramirez says for merchants on Morley Avenue in Nogales, Arizona, the crossing is essential. That includes people like Bruce Bracker, a member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors who owns a clothing shop on Morley Ave. He says the Mexican government announced the crossing was ready to be reopened four days before Christmas, but CBP held off the reopening until this week. Bracker estimates 80% of his business comes from Mexican shoppers, and his store cut down to weekend hours to save costs during the closure. 

"For the merchants who are on Morley Avenue, it was absolutely devastating, because all the pedestrian traffic that goes in front on their stores is generated because that gate was open, so when they closed it, we lost all that pedestrian traffic," he said.

The Morley Gate and the Lukeville Port of Entry are some of a total of four border crossings reopening tomorrow after closures late last year. 

Aid groups help asylum seekers border-wide

The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector has seen some of the largest numbers of border apprehensions border-wide for the last few months.

In November, hundreds of migrants began gathering in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, near the Lukeville Port of Entry, to present to border officers there.

Dozens of others have been gathering near the remote border community of Sasabe.

Paige Corich-Kleim is a volunteer with No More Deaths — one of the groups providing aid to migrants there.

"They’re basically walking, trying to walk to the Border Patrol substation, to turn themselves in, which is 17 miles, but a lot of them are kind of stopping, and just waiting for Border Patrol to pick them up," she said.

Corich-Kliem says small, impromptu camps have been set up along the road, where aid workers have set up temporary shelters there and other aid, especially as southern Arizona continues to get hit with heavy rainfall and cold nighttime temperatures. But she says more help is still needed.

She says she’s not sure yet how the re-opening of the crossing in Lukeville will change the number of people in Sasabe.

A CBP spokesperson said officers with CBP's customs wing will continue to assist Border Patrol agents who are processing migrants and asylum seekers.

More stories from KJZZ

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.