Category Archives: Border Life

Big talk, little change on Trump’s border

Alex Brandon / Associated Press

After months of tough campaign rhetoric, the Trump administration touted a steep decline in border-crossing arrests as evidence of a “new era.”

In Arizona, the arrest of an unauthorized immigrant at a Pima County court and a raid on a humanitarian aid camp near Arivaca offered further signs of an immigration crackdown.

But what exactly has changed along Arizona’s border with Mexico?

Federal immigration agents have arrested people at courthouses before.

The Arivaca camp raid wasn’t the first of its kind; Border Patrol agents also raided it in 2014.

And while arrests of border crossers did plummet after Trump took office in January, they had been declining for years. In 2016, there were 65,000 apprehensions in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, down from more than half a million in 2000.

The truth is, Trump officials are not so much taking border enforcement in a radical new direction as they are tweaking the formidable border security machine built during the Bush and Obama administrations.

So Southern Arizonans without legal status find themselves in a familiar position: trying to figure out the new rules. While campaign bluster about mass deportations has subsided, the federal government is threatening to deport non-criminals living in this country illegally and is prosecuting first-time crossers, something that had largely stopped under Obama.

Scaling up those efforts would be monumentally difficult. The U.S. doesn’t have enough judges, immigration officers or detention space for mass deportations.

The Arizona Daily Star spoke with about three dozen faith leaders, school administrators, organizers, law enforcement officials, lawyers, service providers and immigrants, and gathered data from law enforcement agencies and courts to see what has changed — and what hasn’t — under the new administration.

The Star found that while people are scared, they are not hiding. Instead, they are taking steps to prepare themselves and their families in case they are stopped by a local police officer or get a knock on their door from immigration authorities.

Elma Esquer, middle, talks with Imelda Cortez of Paisanos Unidos about a time when immigration officers came into her house looking for someone else. Daniela Zuñiga, left, and her son Manuel Armenta, right, listen. The group was discussing their legal rights during a cafecito in August. Cortez told them about their right to have an attorney and advised them to be wary of signing documents. A.E. Araiza / Arizona Daily Star

They already know they have to be ready, particularly in the seven years since Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070, one of the toughest immigration laws in the country.

Attendance is up at citizenship prep classes and know-your-rights workshops put on by the Mexican Consulate and grassroots organizations. Families are developing plans to protect U.S.-born children in case their parents are deported.

Some schools saw a slight dip in enrollment after Trump was elected, but for the most part fears subsided and attendance rebounded after principals and teachers reassured students they were safe at school.

Trump’s plan to build a “big, beautiful” wall is proceeding, but not yet on the widely fenced and heavily patrolled border in Arizona. And in recent months, he has said we may need only 1,000 miles of border wall because the rest — another 1,000 miles — already has natural barriers like mountains and rivers.

In Tucson’s federal court, first-time illegal crossers now face criminal charges, but criminal immigration prosecutions are fewer than they were during most of the Obama administration largely because the number of crossers is so much smaller now.

Local sheriff’s departments are holding fewer people for federal immigration officers, and police are not checking as many people’s immigration status, as required by SB 1070, after a state attorney general opinion said an Arizona ID or driver’s license is sufficient proof of legal status. The opinion emphasized that local authorities can’t detain people just to check immigration status.

While Border Patrol agents are catching fewer crossers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are arresting more people already in Arizona. ICE arrests are up nearly 13 percent in the state from January through April compared to the same period in 2016. But that’s still 26 percent below what was reported in 2014.

And Trump’s announced crackdown has run into predictable obstacles, such as the intractable backlog in immigration courts that stymies deportations. Those challenges persist even though two more immigration judges were assigned to Arizona and attorneys say judges are moving through cases faster.

Considering all that, the Trump administration faces a steep climb in realizing a “new era” in border enforcement.

Seven months into Trump’s administration — despite the rhetoric — the Arizona border remains largely as it was before he took office.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Advertisements

Beyond the Wall: Shifting challenges on rugged Arizona line

The international border as seen from a Customs and Border Protection helicopter west of Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star.

Arizona’s border with Mexico is desert, wetlands, jagged mountains and cities that depend on their neighbor to the south.

It has rivers that flow north, an Indian reservation the size of Connecticut and some of the nation’s largest and most remote wilderness areas.

About 70 percent of the state’s border is known as the Tucson Sector, which includes seven mountain ranges that reach thousands of feet high.

As Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Paul Beeson sees it, “Two hundred sixty-two miles might not sound like a lot, but when you get out there and you see the ruggedness, the mountain ranges, the dense brush, everything that goes on with this place — it is not a place without challenges.”

Apprehensions in the sector are the lowest they’ve been since 1991, but how many get through is unknown. Increased enforcement in the urban areas pushed traffic further into the punishing desert where there’s less fencing and the terrain itself is the international barrier.

As more fencing, agents and technology made it harder to smuggle through here, the lines dividing the human and drug trafficking businesses blurred. The Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most notorious drug-trafficking rings, took control.

Residents of remote areas don’t see large groups trekking through anymore, nor loaded cars flying by. Now people cross a few at a time, often dressed in camouflage and wearing carpet booties to hide their tracks.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Click on the image for the full project

Beyond the Wall: Border fence cuts Tohono O’odham Nation in half

Francisco Valenzuela Sr. presents his tribal identification to U.S. Border Patrol agent Carlos Ortiz, before crossing back into Mexico through the San Miguel gate on the Tohono O’odham Nation on Thursday June 2, 2016. Valenzuela says he crosses into the United States twice a week to bring water, food and other supplies back to his home. Photo by Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

TOHONO O’ODHAM NATION — Steel barriers line most of the 75 miles of the Tohono O’odham Nation’s southern boundary. But a wall?

“Over my dead body,” says Verlon Jose, the nation’s vice chairman.

“We have animals that migrate back and forth, and when you start affecting one animal, it’s going to change the entire ecological system,” says Tribal Chairman Edward Manuel. “The plants that grow here rely on some of those animals, the animals rely on each other and we have to rely on all those in order to survive in our way of life.”

Besides, “artificial barriers are never going to stop human trafficking, they’ll find a way to get through,” he adds. What he hopes is that the government comes up with comprehensive immigration reform.

Over the years, the reservation has been caught in the middle of illegal trafficking and enforcement.

The reservation, roughly the size of Connecticut, is sparsely populated with about 30,000 members and thick vegetation of tall saguaros, mesquite trees and creosote.

Before the fence, dozens of loaded trucks used to barrel through daily on their way north.

Then came 9/11, followed by the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which aimed to add barriers along most of the border. The three-strand, barbed-wire fence was replaced by waist-high metal posts.

“We are older than the international boundary with Mexico and had no role in creating the border,” former Chairman Ned Norris Jr. testified before Congress in 2008. “But our land is now cut in half, with O’odham communities, sacred sites, salt pilgrimage routes and families divided.”

The traffic, the cartels and the hundreds of agents and technology that followed have changed the O’odham way of life.

Some members stopped crossing the border to avoid the hassle. Trips to ceremonies in Mexico got longer. Tribal members can’t hunt without running into a Border Patrol agent.

Apprehensions are down, but the western corridor is still busy, especially for drugs. Besides, how many get through is unknown.

Now, a plan for 15 surveillance towers within the Chukut Kuk and Gu-Vo border districts is underway.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Click on the image for the full project

Beyond the Wall: Why we don’t need Trump’s ‘great, great wall’

wall_scroll

This spring, with Donald Trump’s “build the wall” message resonating so powerfully that he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, I was part of a team of Daily Star reporters that visited the southern border states. Our goal was to go beyond the political rhetoric and talk with people who live and work along the international line.

Check out the project at the Arizona Daily Star

 

Specter of cartel-made opioid rears head in Arizona

Reuven Shorr with a photo of himself and his younger brother Ezra as kids in Tucson. Ezra died of a mixed-drug overdose, which included fentanyl, in November 2014. Photo by Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star.

A strong synthetic opioid made by the Sinaloa cartel is increasingly making its way through Arizona, and officials fear a rise in drug-related deaths will follow.

The strongest opioid available in medical treatment, pharmaceutical fentanyl, is used to treat severe pain and is usually administered through a patch. The euphoria-inducing drug is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Over the last couple of years, more than 700 people have died of fentanyl abuse in the United States, but the real number is likely higher because many state labs and coroner’s offices do not routinely test for fentanyl. Most deaths are attributed to the illegally manufactured version of the drug.

Since 2015, law enforcement agencies in Arizona have made at least five seizures of fentanyl — ranging from 4 ounces to 16 pounds — found inside stash houses and vehicles.

There are about 500,000 potential lethal doses of fentanyl in about 2 pounds, the Drug Enforcement Administration calculates. The equivalent to three grains of salt can be lethal to someone with a low tolerance.

“Fentanyl can put people to sleep to the point they can stop breathing,” said Greg Hess, chief medical examiner in Pima County. “Because fentanyl is more potent, the window or margin of error might be less for someone not as experienced.”

Only a small amount is needed of the illegal powder fentanyl cartels make to mix with heroin to make it stronger. Nationwide, persons dying from fentanyl are mostly heroin users exposed to fentanyl without knowing it.

There is no state data on fentanyl-related deaths, but the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner reported an increase from seven overdose deaths where fentanyl was listed as a contributing factor in 2014 to 17 last year.

“But what it means in the larger scheme of things, I don’t know,” said Hess.

The numbers include all overdose cases from Cochise, Santa Cruz and Pinal counties and additional cases from eight other counties.

During this time, there were only two deaths where combined heroin and fentanyl toxicity was listed as the cause of death. Medical examiners can’t distinguish between the pharmaceutical fentanyl and the illegally manufactured fentanyl smuggled through the U.S.-Mexico border.

But as the seizures continue, officials said it’s only a matter of time before the potentially deadly fentanyl-laced heroin makes its way here.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Big birthday gift for Palestinian seeking asylum in Tucson

Mounis Hammouda, center, a Palestinian from Gaza seeking asylum, celebrates his 30th birthday in Tucson with friends. Photo by Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

One of two Palestinians seeking asylum celebrated his 30th birthday this week in Tucson after being released from an immigration center 80 miles north of Tucson.

Mounis Hammouda presented himself at the port of entry in Nogales in November 2014 and asked for refuge. He was detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center in Florence while his case was processed.

Hammouda was released earlier this month, after members of the University of Arizona Students for Justice in Palestine chapter helped raise the $9,000 he needed to pay for his bond. He now lives with one of them close to the UA campus while he awaits his work permit.

“I feel optimistic,” Hammouda said recently as he celebrated his birthday with a new group of friends. “I hope I now continue my life, have a good job, go to school. I hope in future I continue my university, learn English, get married and have my family.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Tucson-area Cubans share thoughts on Obama visit

Arnaldo Mendez, Sr., right, and his son Arnaldo Mendez Jr. own a service station. The Mendez family fled Cuba in 1962. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

This week, President Obama plans a historic trip to Cuba, where he will meet with Cuban President Raúl Castro as well as with entrepreneurs and other residents from various walks of life.

Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years. Over the last year, he has worked to loosen restrictions on travel and commerce and has removed Cuba from a list of nations that support terrorism. Both governments have reopened embassies in Washington and Havana.

The Arizona Daily Star spoke with local Cubans about what all this change — including Obama’s visit — means to them.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.