Migrant crisis fueling human smuggling along US border

Immigration

COCHISE COUNTY, AZ (NewsNation) — For the last nine years, Deputy Jake Kartchner of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office has been patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border. The work is unrelenting.

Kartchner covers more than 60 miles of border along an unforgiving stretch of land in southeastern Arizona. He keeps an eye out for breaches in the border wall and chases down runners who enter the United States illegally.

In recent months, the flow of illegal migrants has surged.

“I caught two guys on a camera. We went down and detained them for Border Patrol. Border Patrol comes, picks them up, they take them back, process them and kick them back across the line. Less than 24 hours later, the same two guys (are caught on) another camera,” Kartchner said on a recent ride along with NewsNation.

In the first six months of fiscal year 2022 (which began in October), U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported more than 122,000 migrant encounters in the Tucson border region alone. That’s more than 50% higher than the same period last year.

Across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, migrant encounters are up more than 83% from last year, according to CPB data. In March, more migrants were apprehended (221,303) than in any other month over the last 22 years.

Those patrolling the border say the influx of migrants is helping fuel a dangerous black market: human smuggling.

Throughout the ride-along, NewsNation saw a sight that has become all too common: a U.S. citizen and alleged human smuggler arrested with several migrants loaded in a car.

The going rate is about $2,000 a head to transport someone across the border. This happens multiple times a day in Cochise County.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Daniels, a law enforcement veteran of more than 38 years, says the current situation at the border is the worst he’s ever seen.

“They’re aggressive, they’re told by the cartels to fight, they’re told by the cartels to flee,” Daniels said.

In this region, it’s uncommon to see families giving themselves up to law enforcement and seeking asylum. Here, it’s mostly single men.

Of the more than 122,000 illegal migrants encountered in the Tucson border region this year, more than 87% have been single adults, according to CPB. The vast majority, almost 90%, are Mexican citizens.

Daniels fears for the safety of his fellow officers.

“I’ve had 22 (illegal migrants) surround my deputy, jump out of a vehicle and surround him and in Spanish said they were going to take him down. I’ve had a deputy drugged just up the highway here. You name it, we’re seeing it,” Daniels said.

Later this month, the Biden administration is set to end Title 42, the rule that allowed border agents to turn away migrants on public health grounds before they could apply for asylum. The decision has been criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who fear the rollback will exacerbate the current crisis at the border.

Others have applauded Biden’s decision and said the Title 42 rollback was overdue. They argue the public health policy was a misapplication of the law and illegally denied migrants the opportunity to seek asylum, something they’re legally entitled to do.

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