Although the thousands of unaccompanied minors apprehended by the Border Patrol continues to be a focus of concern, the number of children turning themselves in at the ports of entry has also spiked.
The number of unaccompanied juveniles deemed inadmissible by the Tucson Office of Field Operations, which includes six land ports of entry and two international airports, has jumped from 29 minors in fiscal 2009 to 664 so far this fiscal year (as of June 18), Customs and Border Protection data show.
“I’m not surprised the numbers are going up at the ports because of the way the unaccompanied minors are turning themselves in quite openly between the ports in South Texas,” said Adam Isacson, a senior associate at the nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America.
“They are not having to chase them through the scrub as they cross the river,” he said, “Border Patrol vehicles are up there and they walk up to them.”
A Nogales, Sonora, man suing the federal government testified he was shot by a Border Patrol agent at close range while trying to find a place to hide to dodge the horse reins the agent was using to hit him.
Jesús Castro Romo says in his lawsuit that the agent used excessive force or was negligent when he shot him in his lower back, close to the waist. The trial before U.S. District Judge James A. Soto is expected to continue through the week.
“Don’t be hitting me. I don’t have anything,” Castro Romo said he kept telling the agent, who he said responded with expletives. Romo said the agent also said he’d continue hitting him as long as he wanted to.
That’s when Catro Romo said he told agent Abel Canales that if he hit him again, he would run toward Mexico.
A complaint Castro Romo’s attorney, William Risner, filed in January 2012 says the Border Patrol agent was on horseback when he intercepted a group of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the United States west of Nogales on Nov. 16, 2010. The agent, identified at trial as Canales, repeatedly struck Romo over the head with the reins after Castro Romo surrendered.
Romo then fled because he could no longer take the pain, the documents say. The agent then shot Romo, who collapsed to the desert floor, according to the complaint.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Castro Romo was shot as result of his own actions and failure to comply with law enforcement. Canales has said Castro Romo threatened him with a rock and he feared for his life.
Targeting smuggling organizations by following the money will be key in stemming the flow of Central Americans crossing the border, a U.S. law enforcement official said Tuesday.
“The whole reason the alien smuggler is in that business is to make money,” said Scott Brown, deputy special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations in Phoenix. “If we make that unprofitable for them, that may take out more than what one arrest can do.”
So far this fiscal year, the U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors and parents crossing the border with their children, many of them through the Rio Grande Valley.
To address the issue, the Obama administration has said the government was going to focus on disrupting the human-smuggling networks here and in the countries of origin. As the share of people coming from Central America — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — has grown, so has the number of smugglers coming from those countries.
Women and children crossing the U.S-Mexico border is the story of the moment — but migration from Central America is not a new trend.
Yes, the numbers are up — Border Patrol agents along the Southwest have detained more than 100,000 families and children traveling alone in the first eight months of the fiscal year.
Migration to the United States from Central American countries has nearly tripled since 1990. Now, the sons and daughters of those who left are taking the same trip their parents once made.
“The fact that we are seeing younger people coming is an additional dimension of the phenomenon, but it’s not new,” said Ruth Piedrasanta, political science professor at Rafael Landivar University in Guatemala City.
There are many theories about why so many more people — particularly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — are coming to the United States.
Critics of President Obama say his lax immigration enforcement and policies are fueling the surge.
Rumors are spreading throughout communities in Central America that women with children and pregnant women were given a permit, or permiso, to stay. But essentially the women and their children are being released because the government doesn’t have enough detention centers to hold them.
Unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico and Canada go through a different process and are often reunited with family members already in the United States while their immigration case is pending.
Delmar Soto left his native Guatemala when his daughter Karen was just a baby and his son Marcony wasn’t yet born.
First he tried to make a go of it working construction in neighboring Mexico, only going back to meet his daughter Karen. Years later, he moved on to the United States before Marcony celebrated his first birthday.
For most of his children’s early years, he was in this country, picking tomatoes in the Florida fields and deboning chicken breasts at the poultry plants in Delaware.
He wanted to give his kids an education, to offer them a shot at a brighter future.
But it wasn’t enough.
He came home, but eventually his kids started talking about leaving. Marcony was still a teenager when he gave up hope. Last year, at age 17, he made a dangerous trek through the Arizona desert on his way to the same chicken plant where Delmar had worked.
Now it’s Karen’s turn. But the 22-year-old isn’t going alone; she’s bringing her 6-year-old daughter Lizeth along for the treacherous journey.