Thousands of parents and their children continue to make the journey north — they either wait in line for days or weeks outside ports of entry or cross paths with Border Patrol agents and seek refuge.
The growing numbers have been particularly troublesome to President Trump, who’s made cracking down on immigration central to his campaigns and administration. He’s continued his calls for a wall; instituted a policy that led to the separation of more than 2,500 children from their parents; and deployed thousands of troops to the border.
But that hasn’t stopped many of the families and minors who are fleeing gangs, extortion and violent partners. Nor those escaping poverty, wanting to reunite with relatives or in search of a better job. To the contrary, thousands keep coming, increasingly in large groups.
How do you secure the border when half of those arriving borderwide — and more than three-fourths of those arriving in the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector — are not trying to evade law enforcement nor the walls built to keep them out?
A group of about 40 students gathered outside a San Luis building — where many who came decades before them had organized alongside civil-rights leader César Chávez.
They called for family reunifications at a time this summer when a government policy had resulted in more than 2,500 immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border.
“What was done is not fair,” then San Luis Mayor Gerardo Sanchez, a Democrat, told the group in Spanish. “You march today to stop these injustices.”
That same day, about 20 miles north in a more conservative Yuma, members of the Immaculate Conception Parish held their first forum aimed at dispelling rumors that their refugee ministry was harboring unauthorized immigrants.
President Trump won in Yuma County with 50.5 percent of the vote in 2016. But in southernmost parts of the county such as San Luis, Democrat Hillary Clinton took nearly 90 percent.
For decades, immigration has been a highly politicized and divisive issue, especially around election time. A Pew Research Center poll before the 2018 midterm elections found that 75 percent of GOP voters said illegal immigration is a “very big” problem in the country today, while just 19 percent of Democratic voters said the same.
And while nearly 6 in 10 Democratic voters said the way unauthorized immigrants are treated is a very big problem, just 15 percent of Republican voters said this.
Forum organizers were well aware of the fraught territory in which they were treading.
YUMA — In a matter of a couple of hours, federal magistrate judge James Metcalf explained charges, accepted pleas and sentenced 40 immigrants in three different languages — with one case postponed to have an interpreter available.
Not every day is as busy in this Yuma courtroom as it was that day in late July. But as the Trump administration pushes for a return to a zero-tolerance policy with the goal of criminally prosecuting everyone the Border Patrol apprehends, the numbers continue to rise, and the nationalities grow more diverse.
Last fiscal year, which ended in September, the courthouse in Yuma prosecuted 2,117 people through Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for border crossers, up from 836 in 2017. That is still much lower than the numbers seen in 2013, when nearly 5,800 were prosecuted.
The fiscal 2018 numbers only represent 8 percent of the 26,000 apprehended — in large part because 3 out of 4 were parents and their children or minors traveling alone, many of them Guatemalan.
Compare that to five years ago, when 94 percent of those apprehended were processed through Streamline but only 8 percent were families or unaccompanied minors.
The program known as Operation Streamline was created in 2005 in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio Sector in Texas to deter a growing number of Central Americans adults from crossing illegally.
Similar to what’s happening today with families, they would be released with a notice to appear before an immigration official because there wasn’t enough detention space to hold them while their cases were processed. But officials said few showed up to their appointments and the practice became known as “catch and release.”
Yuma was one of the first places that followed suit in 2006, at a time when its Border Patrol sector was making upwards of 100,000 apprehensions. Tucson joined in 2008.
SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, Sonora — Casa del Migrante, not far from the port of entry, is a way station for migrants. It’s usually the first stop for deportees and, occasionally, one last layover for those making their way north.
Listen to the men and women at the shelter and two narratives emerge. Many caught by the Border Patrol and criminally prosecuted for illegal entry say they won’t try to cross again, at least not immediately.
If it was only the agents or the fence, a group of men said one afternoon in late July, they would reconsider. But there are also sensors, drones and the cartels that control the routes. It has gotten too hard, they said.
Others, who left children and partners behind or who come from extremely impoverished states, say they see no other option but to keep trying — no matter the cost.
Over the years, the Border Patrol’s strategy has been prevention by deterrence, making it so hard to cross that migrants think it’s best not to try; and when that doesn’t work, to use consequences, including criminal prosecutions, to reduce the number of repeat crossers.
But it’s still up for debate how effective those efforts are. A 2017 Government Accountability Office report found that applying consequences to border crossers didn’t seem to affect the recidivism rates over time. To the contrary, researchers found that apprehensions across multiple years increased from 21 percent in fiscal year 2014 to 25 percent in 2015.
Recently, many of the deportees who arrive at Casa del Migrante la Divina Providencia have been criminally prosecuted for illegal entry but were told the detention centers were full, said Martin Salgado, who runs the shelter.
For some the “push” factors — poverty, violence, natural disasters — and the “pull” factors — jobs, family, safety — are much stronger than any wall or punishment.
Here are the stories of three migrants who are undeterred.