Illegal border crossings are down even without a wall. President Trump’s tough talk may be the reason. Nathan Rousseau Smith (@fantasticmrnate) explains.
PHOENIX — The arrests of four people at a desert-aid camp for migrants Thursday may suggest a more aggressive border control policy taking shape in southern Arizona and could deter some from seeking help as a scorching heat wave approaches.
The arrests at a camp in Arivaca, which was established to prevent the deaths of migrants crossing Arizona’s desert, came after federal authorities monitored the aid station for about two days, said Emma Buck, a volunteer with No More Deaths, which operates the site.
They also came without the usual legal negotiations for their surrender, Buck said. Instead, U.S. Customs and Border Protection obtained a warrant and arrested four people at the camp, which is about 11 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Buck said that seems at odds with an agreement No More Deaths reached with federal officials several years ago in which border authorities said they would not impede humanitarian efforts.
But the agency said in a statement Friday that it had “reached out” to No More Deaths “to continue a positive working relationship and resolve the situation amicably” but was unsuccessful.
The incident appeared to indicate a shift in the balance between border enforcement and humanitarian aid.
Two of the four people arrested needed continuing medical attention, Buck said.
The agency, however, described the migrants as “in good health” and said they were taken to a hospital but “did not require any further medical attention.”
In a statement, CBP said agents had seen the migrants walking north on a “known smuggling route” and tracked them to the camp. CBP said that it had found no “foot sign” of them leaving the camp.
All four were Mexicans, CBP said, and one was “a convicted aggravated felon for drug charges.”
The agency said there had been a “similar incident” involving eight migrants at the camp a month ago. “In this incident, the subjects were voluntarily turned over to Border Patrol without incident,” the agency said.
CBP didn’t return calls seeking further comment.
Any shift in enforcement comes as temperatures are expected to approach 110 degrees in the Nogales area next week and some worry a crackdown on illegal immigration undermines efforts to prevent migrant deaths.
“Regardless of whether the aid station is there or not, folks are going to cross. Regardless of the heat wave, folks are going to cross,” said Chelsea Halstead, deputy director of the Colibri Center for Human Rights, which works with the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office to identify those who die in the desert.
“The raids yesterday are the equivalent of shooting down a boat in the ocean that has refugees on it and letting it sink. The refugees are still going to come,” Halstead said. “Basically, the Border Patrol is ensuring that people’s lives are going to be put in more danger in the middle of a heat wave.”
Desert deaths for migrants peak in the summer months, she said. Figures tracked by the group Humane Borders and the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office seem to agree.
“By far, the busiest months for exposure-related deaths along the border since at least 1981 have been June and July. The number of exposure deaths in June, July and August are double the totals for the other nine months combined.
Buck said it is unclear how the arrests will affect operations at the desert aid camp, which is located on private property.
“We’re afraid for what this raid represents,” Buck said. “We’re not sure what’s going to happen from here. … They haven’t come on with a warrant before.”
“Part of the reason it’s there is because over 200 people were dying a year in the desert,” Ruben L. Reyes, chairman of the Arizona Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said of the camp.
He said that while Border Patrol might argue No More Deaths’ work helped people cross the border illegally, the policy under former President Obama recognized migrants would attempt the journey anyway and some would die, including women and children.
“The discretion that is used in this matter is the purpose of saving lives, not racking up arrest statistics,” Reyes said. “Now they want arrest statistics and they are exchanging that for higher death certificates.”
Contributing: Ryan Santistevan of The Arizona Republic
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