By Vancouver Sun |
SAN LUIS, Ariz. — The 3-year-old boy with a bowl haircut and striped shirt silently clung to his father in the back of a U.S. Border Patrol truck.
Their shoes still muddy from crossing the border, the father and son had just been apprehended at a canal near a border fence in Arizona on a muggy night in July. Before the father, son and two older children could make it any farther, a Border Patrol agent intervened and directed them through a large border gate.
The father handed over documents that showed gang members had committed crimes against his family, one of the ways immigrants who seek asylum try to prove their cases. After a wait, he and his children were hauled away in a van to be processed at a Border Patrol station about 20 miles away in Yuma.
The encounter witnessed by The Associated Press illustrates how families are still coming into the U.S. even in the face of daily global headlines about the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policies. The flow of families from Central America is especially pronounced in this overlooked stretch of border in Arizona and California.
The Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector has seen a more than 120 per cent spike in the number of families and unaccompanied children caught at the border over the last year, surprising many in an area that had been largely quiet and calm for the past decade.
So far this fiscal year, agents in the Yuma sector have apprehended nearly 10,000 families and 4,500 unaccompanied children, a giant increase from just seven years ago when they arrested only 98 families and 222 unaccompanied children.
The Trump administration’s policy of separating families did not seem to be slowing the flow. The Border Patrol here apprehended an average of 30 families per day in June, when the uproar over the policy was at its peak, an increase from May. Yuma is now the second-busiest sector for family border crossings next to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
Agents and border crossers here have many things to contend with. Parts of the border are urban, with fences and canals on the U.S. side directly across from a home’s backyard in Mexico. The sector includes Arizona and part of California, along with the Imperial Sand Dunes and Colorado River.
While drug smugglers and other criminals use the vast desert to cross illegally, most families and children simply walk or swim across into the U.S. and wait to be arrested, according to Border Patrol spokesman Jose Garibay. Many travel in large groups, he said.
Garibay says he was once on assignment when he encountered a group of over 60 families and children.