in Texas, which can’t cope with them. So they’re being sent to
Arizona, which has more processing capacity. It’s unclear whether the
transfers will continue, but the Arizona governor is furious.
The practice has drawn criticism from activists on both sides of the illegal immigration debate. Critics charge that released border-crossers will vanish into the woodwork. Immigrant advocates accuse the federal government of releasing migrants without providing enough basic necessities such as food and water on days that hover around 100 degrees F.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) calls it “another disturbing example of a deliberate failure to enforce border security policies and repair a broken immigration system” in a letter to President Obama.
More deeply, however, it points to shifts in illegal immigration that could have major consequences for border security efforts.
The underlying problem is that Texas is replacing Arizona as the busiest sector for illegal border crossings. In fiscal 2013, agents in
the Rio Grande sector caught 154,453 migrants, up from 97,762 the
previous year. In Arizona’s Tucson sector, which long felt the brunt
of illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border, agents recorded
125,942 arrests last year, says Andy Adame, a Border Patrol spokesman.
Complicating matters further, many of the migrants coming to Texas are
comparatively hard to deport. They are from Central America and are
coming as families. Various studies conclude that crime, gangs, and
poverty are driving people from countries south of the border. Those
who make it to U.S. soil agree, and add another reason: back home
they’ve heard the United States may be lenient with illegal
border-crossers who travel with children.
Ema Morales, dropped off at the Tucson bus station Thursday night with
about 25 Central Americans, says that in her Guatemala town, “they’re
saying that women and children are allowed to stay.”
The border patrol detained Morales and her two toddlers shortly after
they crossed into Arizona. After a couple of days, Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) drove her to the bus station with a group.
Most were Guatemalan women and children of all ages.
Smugglers, who charge Central Americans $2,000 to $3,000 to get them
across the border, also spread word among those from Guatemala,
Honduras, and El Salvador of an existing opportunity for women to go
free and to reunite with family members in the U.S., said Laurie
Melrood, a family advocate working with migrants in Tucson. “But they
don’t tell them that they’re in deportation proceedings as soon as
they’re captured by the border patrol.”
Children have increasingly been coming alone, too. From October to
May, 33,470 of the 47,017 unaccompanied minors caught along the entire
Southwest border crossed through the Rio Grande Valley. In fiscal
2013, the total number of unaccompanied minors detained along entire
border was 24,493, according to federal records.
On Monday, Obama described the influx as an “urgent humanitarian
situation” that called for a swift response. Federal agencies are
moving to provide temporary housing and other services.
These factors create problems for ICE, said spokeswoman Lori Haley.
“These families have minor children with them, and ICE has only one
family detention center in Pennsylvania but otherwise we don’t have
detention facilities that can accommodate children,” she added.
Texas, caught unprepared by the shift, has not been able to cope.
“Because of the recent surge of Central Americans, unaccompanied
juveniles, and family groups in south Texas, the border patrol is
running out of processing space,” said Adame.
That’s where Arizona comes in. As the focal point for illegal
immigration during recent years “the government expended a lot of
resources to this area to include detention facilities or processing
facilities,” added Adame.
After creating biographical files on the migrants and setting them up
for deportation hearings, the border patrol in Tucson turns people
over to ICE, which drops them off at the bus stations.
Immigration authorities for months have transported small numbers of
undocumented immigrants at Tucson and Phoenix bus stations. But the
larger crowds have turned a new page in Arizona’s tumultuous history
of illegal immigration.
The largest number of Texas detainees, about 400, landed here over the
Memorial Day weekend and more arrived before and after, according to
Adame. The border patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector is expanding
processing space to accommodate the migrants, and it is unclear
whether the flights to Arizona will continue.
Immigration authorities won’t say whether Arizona should expect more
arrivals from Texas, but in a Friday statement, Gov. Brewer said some
1,100 unaccompanied children will be transported here over the
“This is in addition to, not inclusive of, adults and family units,
for which numbers have not been provided or any information given,”
Volunteers in Phoenix and Tucson cities have offered assistance,
including food and shelter, to migrants stranded in unfamiliar cities
while waiting for relatives living in the US to send bus fare.
Confusion has run rampant among migrants who are released without
their belongings and have no idea where they are, said Dan Wilson, who
volunteers with Casa Mariposa, a Tucson organization that lends
border-crossers a helping hand. “A lot of them are traveling with
small children and they don’t have any diapers for the trip.”
Governor Brewer expressed similar concerns to Obama: “I remind you
that the daytime temperatures in Arizona during this time of year are
regularly more than 100 degrees.”
On the other hand, Wilson commends ICE for keeping migrants out of
detention centers and for allowing them to live in communities where
families can stay together.
But Bob Dain, a spokesman for the American Federation for Immigration
Reform, which promotes tighter immigration controls, blasted the Obama
administration for its handling of the latest wave of illegal border
“Things have gotten out of hand, Congress needs to step up to the
plate and compel this president to start enforcing the law,” he said.
“Otherwise you’ve got more and more surges of people coming in,
overwhelming the system, and we’ve got a bureaucratic inability to