Tracing The Migrant Journey: On The Ground In Yuma, Arizona

By Michel Marizco
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2019 - 3:40pm
Updated: Monday, August 26, 2019 - 3:22pm

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Series supported in part by Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust

Jose Garibay
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jose Garibay.

MARK BRODIE Throughout the month of August the Fronteras Desk set out across four countries to see how migration to the U.S. has changed. We've heard from people in Honduras and Guatemala looking for a better life here. And people in Guadalajara who chose to settle in neighboring Mexico. On the Arizona border, people from all over the world have gathered to cross into Arizona's desert. So what does that shift look like once they get into Arizona? Joining me now is KJZZ's Michel Marizco reporting from Yuma. Michel, good morning.

MICHEL MARIZCO: Hey, good morning.

BRODIE: So, you've reported that the number of people crossing into western Arizona is now at a record low. What does that look like on the ground?

MARIZCO: Day before yesterday, there was a nine-hour shift to where Border Patrol agents captured eight people. Even three months ago, they were capturing groups of 300 and 400 people who had crossed into Arizona. So, right now it is so quiet that agents are actually looking at whether they need the resources that they had asked for just a few months ago.

BRODIE: Now, the U.S. has been caught by surprise several times this past decade when an unexpected rush of people arrived here. So, does it seem like the government has actually learned anything from that?

MARIZCO: That's always the question. You know, we — the U.S. government was caught by surprise in 2014, as you alluded to. And again in 2018, 2019. One big push by the government this time is infrastructure in terms of border wall. You know, this was President Donald Trump's campaign cornerstone. And it's something that the U.S. Border Patrol here in Yuma insists that they need. So, here's a Yuma Border Patrol spokesman, Jose Garibay host they've got to be by speaking about that need.

JOSE GARIBAY: Even before that, this was a hotspot. So, because as you can see right here, it's only the vehicle barriers that we have. Just those Xs on the ground that, while it does stop vehicles very well, does nothing to stop the flow of people across the boundary. So, people were pouring over this area — hundreds per day — and there was nothing that we could do to stop this.

MARIZCO: And currently the Border Patrol here is actually having a private company erect a 30-foot-high, 27-mile-long border fence. This is a replacement for that old, dilapidated Vietnam War landing mat platform — sort of rinky — wall that's erected along so many parts of the border. They're already in the process of putting this up around some of the ports of entry. They want to do away with those vehicle barriers that he's talking about and put up even more of this. The idea being asylum seekers then won't be able to touch U.S. soil to seek asylum.

BRODIE: Now, Michel, earlier this summer you reported on these massive tents that Customs and Border Protection built on its Yuma compound to house people. Can you give us sort of a breakdown of that project? It was kind of expensive, right?

MARIZCO: Yes. So, those tents were in response to the number of people that were being simply dropped off on the streets of Yuma, because the Border Patrol did not have any room to hold them. They spent $15 million in June. That was the end of their fiscal year budget, to erect these tents. They were very proud of these. They had pack-and-plays for kids. They had a brand new washing machines and dryers that were loading in. They had security guards set up to sanction men from women, so that people could enjoy a shower, threat free. And they had said that this was a four-month-long pilot project here in the Yuma sector, and that it would go month a month after that. Right now, we don't know if they're going to go ahead and just dismantle that $15 million structure, because they don't know if they're going to get another surge.

BRODIE: So, are those tents still going to be used then?

MARIZCO: That's going to be the question. And I think that that's going to be the big question for everybody, you know. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is talking about how they're going to rewrite the rules of the Flora Settlement, where they don't need to release children after 20 day, right? They keep saying that they're sort of continuing with these hardened measures because they don't know what's coming down the pike.

BRODIE: All right, that is KJZZ's Michel Marizco reporting from Yuma. Michel, thanks.

MARIZCO: Hey, thank you.

For more, follow KJZZ reporters on Twitter using the hashtag #MigrantJourney.

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