Category Archives: Border security

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’


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


Border Patrol pledges quicker disclosure of use-of-force incidents

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. Photo by Associated Press.

The largest law enforcement agency in the country has made progress in sharing information after use-of-force incidents but there’s still work to be done, the head of Customs and Border Protection said.

“We are doing better but I wouldn’t say that given the vast geography and size of the organization that it’s all running as smoothly as I would like to see it,” R. Gil Kerlikowske told the Arizona Daily Star a day before the agency held a news conference to discuss its latest shooting incident in Southern Arizona involving a Border Patrol agent.

Since Kerlikowske was appointed to head the agency, which oversees the Border Patrol, he has pushed for greater transparency and accountability by releasing its use-of-force policy. More recently it also publicly disclosed the number of use-of-force incidents, which it said it will start to update monthly broken down by sector, agency branch and other measures.

After a use-of-force incident, a high level CBP official is now supposed to make a statement to the public and release as much information as possible, even when the investigation is ongoing, he said, and cited recent examples where that has been done.

During a Q&A with the Star, Kerlikowske — who has 40 years of law enforcement experience, including nine as chief of police in Seattle — talked about his push for accountability and current hiring challenges.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Use of force by Tucson sector border agents among highest in Southwest

Border Patrol agents have shot their guns five times this fiscal year, including two incidents in the agency’s Tucson Sector, newly released data show.

Customs and Border Protection released sector-specific use-of-force statistics Thursday, six months after reporting national numbers without sector-specific information. The largest law enforcement agency in the country will now update the number of incidents on a monthly basis, broken down by sector and by branch.

CBP also said Thursday it is seeking industry input on body and vehicle-mounted cameras. The fiscal year 2017 budget calls for $5 million to be spent on, among other things, the camera system and development of the agency’s policy for their use.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Arivaca residents monitoring Border Patrol checkpoint on AZ 286

Volunteers with People Helping People, an Arivaca humanitarian organization, are watching and documenting what happens at the Border Patrol’s Arizona Highway 286 checkpoint as part of a campaign to have the checkpoints removed. Photo by Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star.

A group of Arivaca residents expanded their Border Patrol checkpoint monitoring campaign on Wednesday to Arizona 286.

Nine residents of the small community, about 60 miles south of Tucson, grabbed their clipboards and safety vests and sat across the highway from Border Patrol agents as they inspected vehicles heading north from Sasabe.

Their goal was to collect information such as the number of cars that go through, how long they are questioned, occupant ethnicity — when possible — and whether they are sent to secondary inspection.

In February 2014, members of People Helping People, a humanitarian group founded in Arivaca, began monitoring the checkpoint on Arivaca Road to document what they said are abuses and civil rights violations from the agency.

But after two years, it was time to move to the other checkpoint Arivaca residents must cross to leave the town, said Leesa Jacobson, one of the group’s founding members.

When they started, she said, the plan was a few months of intensive monitoring, but they decided to continue on and off after they heard from others that agents were being “nicer,” since part of their efforts are also to serve as a deterrent.

Unlike the first time they monitored the other checkpoint, when volunteers said they were met with resistance from the agents who set up enforcement barriers and used their vehicles to block their views, this time the agents were, in general, professional and respectful, said Jacobson.

She and fellow member Peter Ragan have a lawsuit pending in federal court alleging First Amendment rights violations. The Border Patrol declined to comment due to the lawsuit.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Arrests in Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector at 20-year low

Pedro Santos, 36, of Oaxaca, Mexico, says he got the gash on his head from hitting a rock in the desert. Like many crossers recently deported from the U.S., he was at the Aid Center for Deported Migrants in Nogales, Sonora, assessing his next step. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

Arrests of people crossing the border into most of Arizona are at the lowest they’ve been in more than 20 years, but apprehensions along the state’s western edge near Yuma are on the rise.

For the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector made about 63,000 arrests — nearly half of the apprehensions they made in 2013, just-released Customs and Border Protection data show. Yuma’s apprehensions rose to just over 7,000 arrests from about 6,000 the previous two years.

The picture of the southern border has changed drastically in recent years. Tucson is no longer the busiest sector in the country and Yuma’s apprehensions are far below the more than 100,000 arrests seen in the mid-2000s.

As the number of Mexicans coming north declined and the number of people from other countries, primarily Central America, went up, human traffic shifted east to Texas — particularly the Rio Grande Valley, which is the shortest route from countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

With nearly 150,000 apprehensions, the Rio Grande Valley was the busiest sector in the country last year. But the total number of arrests nationwide, 331,000, is the lowest since 1972.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.