WASHINGTON – The number of people apprehended at the Arizona border jumped more than 50 percent in fiscal 2018 from the year before, according to numbers released Tuesday by U.S Customs and Border Protection.
Increases in the Tucson and Yuma sectors outpaced the rate of growth along the rest of the Southwest border over the last year, where the number of immigrants apprehended or turned away grew just over 25 percent from Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018, the agency said.
Even though the total numbers rose from 415,517 to 521,090, that was still only the third-highest level of the past six years, down from a peak of 569,237 people stopped at the border in 2014.
The report comes as the Trump administration is sounding the alarm about a “caravan” of thousands of immigrants who are heading north through Mexico, fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
In recent days, President Donald Trump has criticized Mexico and other Central American governments for not making enough of an effort to stop the caravan, threatening to cut off U.S. aid and, at one point, calling for the U.S. military to close the Southwest border.
On a conference call Tuesday, two White House senior officials took the opportunity to blame the current “migration crisis” on Democrats, who they said support loopholes in immigration law that allows the Central Americans to seek asylum here.
The administration renewed its calls for changes in law that would allow the government to hold families in detention longer, and to allow the U.S. to immediately returned undocumented immigrants from Central American countries. Current law only allows the immediate repatriation of people from contiguous countries, or Mexico and Canada.
“If you could return them home, there wouldn’t be a crisis,” one White House official said on Tuesday’s call.
While the report broke out the number of families and unaccompanied minors from Central America who were stopped over the past two years, those groups still made up only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands who are stopped in a given year.
In Arizona’s two border sectors, the CBP reported apprehending 78,416 people last year, a sharp increase from the 51,504 migrants in 2017.
Yuma saw the sharpest percentage increase in the state, more than doubling from the previous year to reach 26,244 apprehensions in fiscal 2018. Although Tucson only saw a 34 percent increase, 52,172 migrants it apprehended in fiscal 2018 was second-highest on the Southwest border, trailing only the Rio Grande, Texas, sector.
Law enforcement officials on the front lines were reluctant to discuss policy, but said something needs to be done to protect their communities.
Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said he is “very concerned about human trafficking, sex trafficking and that sort of thing.” That was echoed by Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who said criminal activity at the border regarding drug trafficking, human smuggling and the cartels worries him.
Neither sheriff had seen the CBP report with the latest numbers, but both said they want a “secure border” that is able to deter criminal activity. To Napier, that can mean “physical barriers where they make sense, technology, human resources.”
“It’s a blend of all those things because the border is not one thing,” Napier said Tuesday. “There are places where the board is very mountainous, it’s very remote. There’s places where it’s very urban, so it’s not a one size fits all proposition,” he said.
Dannels said that securing the border starts “with laws. It starts with policies, it starts with technology.”