Arizona faces its own border crisis, with Yuma seeing significant increases in illegal crossings

In August, 17,000 people illegally crossed into the Yuma Sector. That's up from 694 a year earlier.

While much of the world watched roughly 15,000 Haitians illegally cross the Rio Grande River from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas, last month, an area near Yuma, Arizona, has become the Grand Canyon State’s Del Rio equivalent.

Known as “The Gap,” a well-known break in the border fence near the Morelos Dam is where migrants illegally cross the border into Arizona – walking across the Colorado River from the Mexican border town of Los Algodones.

In August, 17,000 people illegally crossed into the Yuma Sector. That's compared to 694 in August 2020, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data, an increase of more than 2,300%.

By mid-September, the daily average was more than 600 migrants arriving in the Yuma sector, also an increase of more than 2,000% from the same time last year.

On Sept. 23, Yuma Border Patrol agents encountered more than 1,000 migrants who illegally crossed the border, “a new fiscal year record for daily apprehensions,” Chief Patrol Agent Chris T. Clem tweeted. They came from 21 different countries, he said.

#YumaSector agents encountered more than 1,000 migrants who illegally crossed the border into the U.S. from Mex on Thursday, a new fiscal year record for daily apprehensions. The total includes migrants from 21 different countries. #BorderSecurity is #NationalSecurity— Chief Patrol Agent Chris T. Clem (@USBPChiefYUM) September 23, 2021

The previous weekend, Yuma agents apprehended more than 2,400 migrants, which included several large groups and a human smuggling operation, he added in a separate tweet.

The Yuma Sector, in the southeast corner of Arizona, comprises about 181,670 square miles of primarily desert terrain divided between California and Arizona. It covers 126 miles of the U.S. southern border from the Imperial Sand Dunes in California to the Yuma-Pima County line in Arizona. The area consists of vast open deserts, rocky mountain ranges, large drifting sand dunes and the Colorado River.

Yuma Station Agent Vincent Dulesky told that the crossings are “relentless,” taking place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One apprehended Haitian told, “We had heard of The Gap and people said this is the place to come.” He said he came “because my family are here – my mom and dad. I was in Brazil before. I want to have a life here and work.”

Another Haitian family said, “We were in Chile but we heard the border was open so we went to Mexicali and then came here [Yuma].”

Border Patrol facilities are overwhelmed in Arizona, agents say, with one camp designed to hold 500 people now holding more than 1,300.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year issued a state of emergency order and disaster declaration over the border crisis. He also launched an interstate compact with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, in June, calling on other governors to send forces to help secure the southern border in response to Biden administration policies facilitating the surge at the border.

Ducey and Abbott are hosting nine Republican governors in Mission, Texas, on Wednesday to discuss border security concerns. Many of the governors have already sent members of their national guard, state troopers, or other law enforcement agents to Arizona or Texas on temporary assignments. They’ve also reported that their states have been inundated with human and drug smuggling, as well as increased drug overdoses due to a surge of cheap supplies of methamphetamine and fentanyl flowing into their states through the southern border.

The 11 governors convening Wednesday are also part of a group of 26 governors who previously called on President Joe Biden to end his open border policies and requested a meeting at the White House. They have not yet received a response.

“The months-long surge in illegal crossings has instigated an international humanitarian crisis, spurred a spike in international criminal activity, and opened the floodgates to human traffickers and drug smugglers endangering public health and safety in our states,” they wrote in their letter to Biden.

“A crisis that began at our southern border now extends beyond to every state and requires immediate action before the situation worsens,” they added. “The negative impacts of an unenforced border policy on the American people can no longer be ignored.”

According to Customs and Border Patrol data, apprehensions in August increased by nearly 500% along the southern border compared to last August. Nearly 209,000 people came through, a 21-year-high.

By mid-September, more than 1.3 million people had been apprehended, a number greater than the populations of nine states, with another several hundred thousand estimated to have evaded capture.