Border Patrol reports upswing of migrants near Tuscon |

Border Patrol reports upswing of migrants near Tuscon

ARTHUR H. ROTSTEINthe associated press
** FILE ** A fallen barbed wire fence is the only barrier between Mexico and the United States as illegal migrants cross near the town of Sasabe, state of Sonora, Mexico in this file photo taken Thursday, April 1, 2004. U.S. Border Patrol officials are seeing a significant increase in the number of illegal immigrants being smuggled through what's known as the Sasabe corridor southwest of Tucson. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. – U.S. Border Patrol officials are seeing a significant increase in the number of illegal immigrants being smuggled through what’s known as the Sasabe corridor southwest of Tucson.Agents in the Tucson station, who are responsible for covering the corridor, have arrested some 37,000 migrants so far during the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Spokesman Gustavo Soto of the patrol’s Tucson sector said there were about 25,000 apprehensions recorded for the same period last fiscal year – nearly 48 percent fewer.Over the past few years, immigrant-smugglers had favored routes farther west – through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument or other desert areas.But since last summer and fall, areas cutting through the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, with its diverse vegetation and shorter distances from the border to well-traveled roads in some instances, have gained currency as smugglers try to evade capture by Border Patrol agents.The corridor, lying in the Altar Valley, stretches north from the tiny border crossing at Sasabe, 65 miles from the Tucson, through the Buenos Aires, a 118,000-acre mosaic of grasslands, wetland, mesquite-covered groves, cottonwoods along streams and some oak and sycamore-lined canyons.

The corridor also takes in the small community of Arivaca, while Arizona 286 cuts through the refuge between Sasabe and Three Points, from where smugglers have a 20-mile trip east into Tucson.Arizona is the nation’s busiest point for illegal immigrants entering the country from Mexico. The Tucson sector, which encompasses all but about the 50 westernmost miles of the Arizona-Mexico border, accounts for most of the crossings. The Sasabe corridor currently has more arrests than any portion of the Tucson sector this fiscal year, Soto said.The Sasabe Corridor encompasses the southern end of the Baboquivari mountains, near where the Tohono O’odham reservation begins. About 60 miles south of the border, the Mexican town of Altar has become a major staging point for illegal immigrants and smugglers making arrangements to cross into Arizona.On Tuesday, agents from the Tucson station arrested 483 migrants, a 71 percent jump from the 282 apprehensions the station’s agents made on the same day last year.But that figure is nowhere near the 4,000 migrants a day estimated to be crossing through the Sasabe-Buenos Aires area by the Rev. Robin Hoover, head of Humane Borders.

The humanitarian group maintains water stations in heavily trafficked desert spots to help keep immigrants from dying in the desert.Hoover attributed the high number to being in “peak migration.”There was no immediate explanation for the wide variance between Hoover’s estimate and Border Patrol figures.The pace of illegal immigration typically picks up significantly during February and March, Soto said.Even so, while last month’s 42,000 arrests were the Tucson sector’s heaviest during the current fiscal year, the total represented a 7 percent decrease from the 45,000 for the same month in fiscal 2005, Soto said.

With the trafficking activity increasing seasonally, illegal immigrants caught in the west desert areas now are being transported to the Border Patrol’s Nogales station for quicker processing.They’re entered into the agency’s electronic identification systems before being sent back to Mexico unless they have a criminal record.This is the second year that all west-desert arrests are being processed at Nogales as a centralized location, rather than being brought first to Tucson, Soto said.The shift uses agents brought in temporarily from other parts of the country with less illegal traffic, allowing more local agents from the Tucson, Casa Grande and Ajo stations to be sent out into the desert areas for patrol, Soto said.With 15 to 20 agents processing arrested immigrants at any time, the Nogales center will be able to handle up to 2,000 in a 24-hour period, he said. On Tuesday, nearly 1,900 people were caught in the entire Tucson sector – down from 2,100 arrested 12 months earlier, Soto added.There have been 157,000 arrests sectorwide this fiscal year, an 11 percent dip from the 175,000 recorded through the same period 12 months earlier.

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