As Arizona looks to defund border security, cartels move smuggling efforts west
Arizona’s 378 miles of shared border with Mexico is patrolled by agents in two CBP sectors of Tucson and Yuma.
Since Gov. Katie Hobbs was sworn into office in January, the number of foreign nationals illegally entering Arizona has increased primarily in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson Sector. And as several factors, including Texas expanding border security efforts, are resulting in illegal border crossings increasing further west, law enforcement officials say Arizona can expect greater numbers.
Arizona’s 378 miles of shared border with Mexico is patrolled by agents in two CBP sectors of Tucson and Yuma. Last month, agents in both sectors combined apprehended 36,296 foreign nationals, up from 33,193 in January.
They also reported 19,698 gotaways last month, up from 13,968 in January, according to preliminary data obtained by The Center Square from a Border Patrol agent. The agent provided the information on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. It only includes Border Patrol data and excludes Office of Field Operations data.
Tucson Sector’s 262 shared border miles with Mexico extends from the Yuma County line to the Arizona-New Mexico state line. Yuma Sector’s nearly 182,000 square miles of primarily desert terrain extends from Imperial Sand Dunes in California to the Yuma-Pima County line.
Broken down by sector, last month Tucson Sector agents apprehended 25,371 foreign nationals and reported at least 18,603 gotaways, according to the data.
This is up from January, when they apprehended 21,300 foreign nationals and reported 13,257 gotaways.
It’s also up from a year ago, according to preliminary data previously reported by The Center Square. In February 2022, Tucson Sector agents apprehended 22,295 foreign nationals and reported 16,488 gotaways. In January 2022, they apprehended 18,461 foreign nationals and reported 13,250 gotaways, according to the data.
By contrast, Yuma Sector’s numbers overall were down. Last month, agents apprehended 10,295 foreign nationals and reported 1,095 gotaways, according to the data; down from January’s 11,893 apprehensions but up from January’s 711 reported gotaways.
In February 2022, Yuma Sector reported 22,893 apprehensions and 3,134 gotaways; in January 2022, 25,070 apprehensions and 2,516 gotaways, according to the data.
Overall in fiscal 2022, nearly 816,000 foreign nationals were apprehended or evaded law enforcement after illegally entering Arizona, according to Border Patrol data obtained by The Center Square.
Gotaways refers to those who are known and reported to illegally enter the U.S. primarily between ports of entry who intentionally seek to evade capture by law enforcement and don’t return to Mexico. They don’t arrive at ports of entry claiming asylum or making other immigration claims and are mostly single military age men who are considered dangerous, Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief John Modlin testified before Congress last month.
“The smuggling organizations to our south are very well organized and resourceful,” he said, referring to Mexican cartels. “Each and every person crossing through the Tucson Sector must pay these criminal organizations,” he said. “The migrants we encounter are completely outfitted in camouflage by the smuggling organizations before they cross. Most run from and fight our agents to avoid apprehension. Many are previously deported felons who know they are inadmissible to the United States and many pose a serious threat to our communities.”
Due to several factors, including Texas’ expanded border security efforts, illegal border crossings are increasing farther west, including in the Tucson Sector, which reported the greatest number of gotaways last month.
As Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continues to beef up apprehension efforts and the Texas legislature prepares to allocate nearly $5 billion to border security efforts, Hobbs has vowed to defund Arizona’s Border Strike Force, which would negatively impact local law enforcement the most, Jobe Dickinson, president of the Border Security Alliance, told The Center Square.
“Currently in Arizona, Governor Hobbs is recommending cutting funding to the border strike force that helps local law-enforcement supplement Border Patrol’s responsibilities. This makes an easy decision for the cartels to start shifting their smuggling routes, more and more into Arizona,” he said.
With Texas’ operations expanding, Dickinson said, “The cartels run a business. They will choose the path of least resistance in order to lose as little product as possible,” referring to the smuggling of people and drugs from Mexico into the U.S.
Since March 2021, Texas’ Operation Lone Star multi-agency efforts have led to an unprecedented 352,000 apprehensions of illegal foreign nationals and over 25,000 criminal arrests, with more than 23,000 felony charges reported, according to state data.
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