Border crosser surge in Texas crowds Tucson bus station

“One comes here because it’s hard in Guatemala. I left seven children to come here and try to do something,” said Paula Briseno Rodriguez, holding her son Adrian after being left by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Tucson Greyhound bus station. Photo by Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star

The Department of Homeland Security dropped off close to 200 immigrants — mostly women and children — at the Tucson Greyhound station this week, leaving them to find their own way to cities across the country to report to immigration offices there.

While such releases are not new, the number left here at the same time has put a strain on local immigration advocates and has customs and bus line officials working on a plan to accommodate the unexpected influx of travelers.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona is processing 400 people, mostly families coming from Central America and Mexico who were apprehended in South Texas and flown here over the weekend, officials said.

To process the surge of crossers from Texas, the Border Patrol is turning to all available resources at its disposal, said Daniel Tirado , Border Patrol spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

In the first six months of the fiscal year, Border Patrol agents in that sector detained more people than Tucson did all of last year, with an average of more than 600 apprehensions a day.

In comparison, Tucson Sector Border Patrol agents have detained about 61,000 border crossers during the same period, with 18 percent coming from a place other than Mexico.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Pen pal project connected kids from Tucson to Africa

Ali Vick, left, and Maddy Butler, both 9, and Tatum Spencer, 10, work on picture frames for their Kibera pen pals. The project is the culmination of a yearlong effort at Tucson Country Day School. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

Learning about others and extending a helping hand is what drew Daniel Cardenas into the pen-pal school project with children from Africa.

“Maybe one day you will need help just like them, and maybe they can help you,” said the 10-year-old as he decorated a picture of one of the children from Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world with about 1 million residents.

More than 750 Tucson Country Day School students took part in a yearlong effort, which included sending letters to students in Kibera, outside Nairobi, Kenya, filling a suitcase with crayons, pencils and other school supplies donated by the students and their families, and which is culminating this week with the art project.

Most of the students in Kibera don’t have pictures of themselves — many have never even seen themselves because there are no mirrors, school officials said. So as part of the Child to Child Project: Sharing Kindness With Kibera, the students decorated and framed pictures of their pen pals, glued on purple cloth, with their names to be sent back to Africa.

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Latest immigration debate: Are churches, schools safe havens?

Last September, the U.S. Border Patrol asked Pima County sheriff’s deputies for help going after a border crosser who ran from them and possibly went inside Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Green Valley.

A deputy walked into the church and saw someone who matched the agents’ description. In his limited Spanish, the officer asked the man to follow him outside, where Border Patrol agents were waiting.

But deputies will no longer respond to places such as schools, hospitals or churches solely for an immigration issue, said Frank Duarte, a captain with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and commander of the Homeland Security Division.

The new directive comes after the department “took a look at some of the issues that popped up,” Duarte said. That includes an incident in March, first reported by KVOA, where a deputy stopped at the Immaculate Conception Church in Ajo to look into three people he described as wearing “dingy and tattered clothing” and jeans that “appeared several sizes too large.”

Based on his training and experience, the deputy wrote in his report that he believed they were not legally in the country. The men tried to hide from him, and the deputy went into the church, spoke with the minister, and asked them to go outside.

The three were from Honduras, and were on their way to Phoenix after traveling for three months from the Central American country to Mexico, then three days from the U.S. border to the church. Border Patrol was called to respond.

With the new directive, Duarte said, the sheriff’s department will be better aligned with the Border Patrol.

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Humanitarian group prohibits Border Patrol search of Arivaca camp

Volunteers with a local humanitarian aid group stopped Border Patrol agents from entering their camp outside of Arivaca to search for people whose footprints they said they followed there.

“Our standard practice and policy has always been to dialogue with Border Patrol,” said Geoffrey Boyce, a spokesman with No More Deaths. But unless agents have a warrant to search the camp, he said, they have no reason to be there.

The problem, said Art del Cueto, president of the Border Patrol Union Local 2544, is that agents don’t know if the people they are tracking are dangerous or are human or drug smugglers.

“Bottom line, you don’t know who these people are,” he said, and No. 2, they broke the law and an agent’s job is to protect the border and arrest people who enter the country illegally.

On Thursday afternoon, two Border Patrol agents went inside the camp, located on private property about 20 miles from the border, without permission and without speaking with any of the volunteers, Boyce said Friday.

A volunteer told the agents they couldn’t be there and they left after being asked to do so. But later that evening, another agent returned and asked for permission to search the camp. Volunteers declined. Four Border Patrol vehicles then stayed just outside the camp through Friday morning, when all but one left, Boyce said.

Agents don’t go into private houses or the curtilage, Tucson Sector Chief Manuel Padilla said, unless it’s an emergency situation or get a warrant, which agents weren’t able to secure Thursday. “In this case we can wait it out,” he said, and agents will be watching the area closely.

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No action taken in most complaints against border agents

An unauthorized immigrant complained that a Border Patrol agent hit his head against a rock, causing a hematoma.

A minor said an agent physically forced him to sign a document.

Another border crosser complained agents denied him water and touched female immigrants inappropriately.

Those were among the 279 complaints filed in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector between January 2009 and January 2012.

Only the first resulted in counseling for the agent — one of 13 complaints where a disciplinary action was taken out of 809 cases reviewed by the American Immigration Council, a D.C.–based immigrant advocacy group.

Many complaints were pending, but among the cases in which a formal decision was made, 97 percent resulted in “no action taken,” the researchers found.

Through a Freedom of Information Request, the group reviewed complaints filed against Border Patrol agents and supervisors from the three-year period.

Since there is no unified system through which the agency receives complaints, the report provides only a snapshot of those that were passed along to Customs and Border Protection’s office of internal affairs.

The agency released this statement Tuesday: “CBP is committed to ensuring that the agency is able to execute its challenging missions while preserving the human rights and dignity of those with whom we come in contact.

“The men and women of CBP strive to treat each of the over 1 million people we come into contact with each day with the respect they deserve. All allegations of misconduct are taken seriously, and if warranted, referred for appropriate investigative and/or disciplinary action to be taken.”

Mike Nicley, retired chief of the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, said the agency had issues with the level of experience in the past when it went through a hiring surge, and agents make mistakes. But overall, the number of complaints filed are a small percentage of total apprehensions and many are not substantiated.

It might be that the agent’s action is justified, he said, but the person involved doesn’t see it that way.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.