Officials detain 185 migrants near Tucson; 91 of them are unaccompanied minors – The Arizona Republic

Federal officials said 185 migrants, mostly unaccompanied children, recently surrendered to border agents in San Miguel and Three Points, near Tucson. 

Early Thursday, 95 migrants surrendered to Border Patrol agents after crossing the U.S. border near San Miguel, John Mennell, supervisory public affairs specialist for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirmed to The Republic.

According to a tweet from John Modlin, interiFm chief patrol agent for the agency, 91 were unaccompanied migrant children primarily from Guatemala, he said.

A day earlier, 90 migrants surrendered to agents from the Three Points Station, near Tucson. More than half of them were unaccompanied children from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, according to the tweet by Modlin.

Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, a Phoenix-based non-profit organization that provides resources to immigrants of all ages and their families, said the large influx of migrants crossing the border is nothing new. 

However, the reason why they choose to make that dangerous trek across the border is different for everyone.

“The large influx (of migrants) at the border right now could be due to various things. It could be the fact that President Biden has welcomed migrants and encouraged them to find a pathway to citizenship or it could be the fact that it’s the Fourth of July weekend and there’s more access for migrants to cross at the border,” she said. “What I am also hearing right now is that people are crossing the border to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because they cannot get it in their country.”

Number of unaccompanied minors at border approaching highest level in 6 years

So far in 2021, there have been 79,948 unaccompanied minors at the border, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection — approaching the highest count in the last six years: 80,634 in 2019.

Though 2020 saw the lowest numbers of unaccompanied minors in six years, 33,239, the Tucson sector had a 17% increase from 5,105 in 2019 to 5,949 in 2020, according to the agency’s data.

By March 2021, the sector had received 7,079 unaccompanied minors, already 18% higher than the total of 2020.

After unaccompanied children are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection, they are processed and receive a notice to appear in immigration court. The children are eventually turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Health and Human Services, Mennell said.

Under the Trump administration’s 2018 zero-tolerance policy, parents caught entering the U.S. illegally with their children were criminally prosecuted and separated from their children.

But prior to the start of the policy, thousands of children were separated from their families by the U.S. government. The same year, nearly 1,500 undocumented immigrant children who arrived at the southwest border and were placed into temporary homes were also lost by the U.S. government, drawing public outrage.

Since President Joe Biden took office, he immediately changed or eliminated policies former President Donald Trump had imposed to curb migrant activity at the border. 

But with the rollback in policies, the Biden administration appeared to be caught off guard by the recent spike in border apprehensions and surge in arrivals of unaccompanied migrant children, which has overwhelmed detention facilities.

Because of the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border through San Miguel, there are fewer agents available to make arrests and conduct rescues for the single adults that are making their way across the Baboquivari Mountains, Mennell said.

U.S. officials encountered 180,034 migrants during the month of May, reaching a new peak under President Biden, the newly published statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show. That was a 1% increase from April’s numbers. 

The agency expelled 112,302 migrants in May under an emergency public health rule known as Title 42 that the Biden administration has kept in place. To date, the U.S. has expelled 867,673 migrants under Title 42 since the rule took effect in March 2020.

‘We need to focus on the needs of these people’

While June 2021 was officially recorded as the hottest June on record in Phoenix, Mennell said that the heat has no bearing on the number of migrant children crossing the border at any one time.

The smugglers know an agent’s focus has to be on the preservation of life, he said.

Falcon, of Promise Arizona, however, said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s primary job entails apprehending and processing — and they’re in dire need of a focus shift.

“We need to focus on the needs of these people first, rather than just processing them as they come through,” she said.

And still, Falcon believes that is just a start. What the border protection agency should actually consider is a collaboration with local experts, she said — experts who have helped people who cross the border and their families for years.

“We (at Promise Arizona) know how to help families who need immediate emergency or medical assistance, need to be clothed and fed, or need transportation assistance —  a more humanitarian way,” she said. 

Republic reporters Rafael Carranza, Daniel Gonzalez, Miguel Torres and Audrey Jensen contributed to this article.

Reach breaking news reporter Amaris Encinas at amaris.encinas@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @amarisencinas.

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