Tag Archives: Border security

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.

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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.

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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.

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Officials: Past border tech efforts failed, but this one won’t

Camera operators at the Border Patrol’s surveillance receiving work room at the Nogales Border Patrol Station can access day-and-night cameras from seven towers in the area. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

Previous attempts to use technology to secure the U.S.-Mexico border have blown through more than $1 billion and have missed their mark.

But border officials say they have it right this time. After several delays, the first phase of Arizona’s technology plan to secure the border is finished — and others will soon follow.

Seven of 52 planned Integrated Fixed Towers are functional in Nogales. The solar-powered towers are about 80 feet tall, with radar and day-and-night cameras that send real-time video footage to a Border Patrol command post.

Officials estimate they can start construction in Douglas and possibly Sonoita by January, after the Chief of the Border Patrol certifies that they work.

The towers are part of a larger Arizona border-surveillance plan announced in 2011 after the government canceled a failed $1   billion program. The plan includes a combination of ground sensors, long-range night-vision scopes mounted on trucks, binoculars, and fixed towers with and without radar.

The Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan is expected to be fully operational by fiscal 2020. That’s five years after the initial estimate, but CBP officials say that’s due more to future funding than to their ability to deploy the technology.

Once the entire program is completed, it will give the Border Patrol 90  percent situational awareness, which basically means knowing what’s going on, said Fernando Grijalva, assistant chief over the communications department in the Tucson Sector.

But first it must win approval from lawmakers, who are determined to avoid the mismanagement and cost overruns that brought down previous programs.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

$1-billion-a-year border bill unneeded, critics say

A communications tower, flanked by fencing, sits on a hilltop near the international border west of Nogales. The photo was taken from a Customs and Border Protection helicopter. Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star.

A $1 billion-a-year bill moving through Congress would add miles of roads and fences along the border and waive more than a dozen environmental laws within 100 miles of the border — even though top immigration officials say that’s not needed.

The proposed bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to achieve “operational control” of the U.S.-Mexico border. That means that all illegal entries are stopped, which top DHS officials have said is unrealistic.

But Martha McSally, Southern Arizona’s newly elected Republican U.S. representative who co-sponsored the House bill, said setting an ambitious standard is the best way to achieve success.

“We have to set a very high goal to understand how important it is to get this job done,” McSally said. Arizona’s U.S. senators — Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake — co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

The House bill’s author, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, calls it the “toughest border security bill ever set before Congress,” but neither the Border Patrol union nor local environmentalists think it’s needed.

“We don’t address the underlying issues,” said Roger McManus, a biologist who is president of Friends of the Sonoran Desert. People keep coming here for jobs, and drugs keep coming through over the border because there’s a demand for them, he said.

Groups on both sides of the immigration debate also have spoken out against the bill — either because they say it doesn’t do enough to stop illegal immigration or because it won’t lead to comprehensive immigration reform.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.