Nogales Bicycle Unit conducts operations in downtown Nogales, Arizona

U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Nogales Bicycle Unit arrest a man suspected of illegally entering the United States by scaling over the internal boundary fence. The apprehension of Central American families has skyrocketed so far this year in a 262-mile stretch of border that officials refer to as the Tucson Sector.

The apprehension of Central American families has skyrocketed so far this year in a 262-mile stretch of border that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials refer to as the Tucson Sector.

Statistics released recently by the federal agency show a 275 percent increase in arrests of families in the Tucson sector between fiscal year to date July 2018 and fiscal year to date July 2019. According to the CBP website, the Tucson sector encompasses 262 miles of linear border from the Yuma County line to the Arizona/New Mexico state line. It is made up of eight stations that are broken down into three corridors. These eight stations are located in Why, Casa Grande, Tucson, Nogales, Willcox, Sonoita, Bisbee, and Douglas. Apprehensions of family units for the entire southwest border of the U.S. — from Texas to San Diego — for that same time period climbed 456 percent.

In a roundtable session for the community hosted by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office last week, officials also reported an uptick in the arrests of undocumented people by the sheriff’s office’s SABRE unit. SABRE stands for Southeast Arizona Border Region Enforcement. In July 2018, just under 50 undocumented people were arrested by the SABRE unit. That number quadrupled this July, when 200 were caught, figures show.

Cameras used by the sheriff’s office along the border also have captured more undocumented people attempting to come into the U.S. illegally. According to CCSO statistics, in July 2018 the cameras saw about 70 undocumented people attempting to cross over. This July, that number rose to just under 400.

Joe Curran, an agent with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said traditionally those trying to get into the U.S. have been single, Mexican males.

“(But now) massive groups of Central Americans are crossing into the U.S.,” Curran said. “We’re seeing families coming over.”

The families are largely coming from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico. The first three countries are referred to by CBP and other law enforcement agencies as the “Northern Triangle.”

The Rev. Rosa Brown of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bisbee and St. Stephen Episcopal Church in Douglas, said she is seeing more and more families fleeing those countries with hopes of reaching the U.S.

“What is going on in particular in Central America is the violence,” said Brown, whose churches are part of a humanitarian effort that feeds migrants living in a small tent at the Agua Prieta/Douglas border. The migrants are waiting to fill out applications for asylum. “The violence, as well as drugs, have been the topics in these countries for years, but it has escalated and many of these people are getting scared.”

Drug gangs in those countries target youngsters, Brown said. Many families are leaving because they want to save their children from that fate. Brown mentioned meeting a family recently whose father had been killed by a gang after he refused to allow his children to be taken by them.

“People just can’t take it anymore,” Brown said. “That’s why they’re leaving.”

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