YUMA, Ariz. - Border crosstalk has been in the national and international media headlines for the better part of President Donald Trump’s presidency.
In Yuma, the topic hits a little closer to home.
The U.S.-Mexico border is just miles down the road and is an issue that affects a border community like Yuma County.
With so much rhetoric in the mainstream media and in Washington, it’s easy to get lost in the mix of what’s happening at the border - and what’s not. That’s why News 11 set out to find out what’s really happening in our region.
This is a border reality check.
Agent Justin Kallinger is a 16-year Border Patrol veteran. Eleven of those years have been in the Yuma Sector. He has truly seen a shift at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“You know, we talked about the demographics, the big difference, when I was here in 2005 and all the agents we’re constantly being barraged by these large groups of banzais…and they were running from us, they wanted to get away. That’s not the case anymore, these people will cross and will walk and find the first Border Patrol car they can, and they give up,” Agent Kallinger said.
He told News 11 the change in the demographics is what is taking agents from what they’re supposed to do: border security.
We found a video from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from over a decade ago that shows how easy it was for immigrants to enter the country illegally near the San Luis Port of Entry.
“They were doing whatever they wanted to do in order to cross illegally in order to enter the country illegally. Now, we’re seeing family units and unaccompanied children,” Kallinger added.
In March 2019, 92,607 people were apprehended between ports of entry on the Southwest Border, according to the latest CBP statistics.
Data shows that of that total number, 53,077 apprehensions were family units. In fact, Yuma Sector apprehended 24,194 family units for the fiscal year 2019 to date. The same time period for the fiscal year 2018, our sector apprehend 6,487 family units. That’s a 273 percent increase, CBP data showed.
News 11 took a trip to the Enforcement Zone, just a half-mile away from the port of entry. Agent Kallinger said ten years ago the zone was dangerous and looked completely different.
What occupies the Enforcement Zone now are two 18-foot tall fences with concertina wire and steel plates. Behind the secondary fence is a six-foot chain link fence, all to help curb illegal immigration.
“I think a lot of people in the United States don’t know what’s really going on down here on the border, they can only make assumptions or it’s just what they hear,” Mario Campos, President of National Border Patrol Council Local 2595, said. “We have to come out here and tell people what’s really going on because if we don’t, we can’t make a change,” he added.
News 11 looked at CBP data throughout the years in the Yuma Sector. Apprehensions were at their worst in 2005 with 138,438 apprehensions at the border, the highest number the sector has ever seen. After improved infrastructure, apprehensions were as low as 5,833 in 2011. Apprehensions at the border started to gain traction once again with 14,170 apprehensions in 2016. For the fiscal year 2018, Yuma Sector made 26,244 apprehensions.
Agents said this creates a problem.
“What that creates now is false family units, we found over 400 cases of false family units within this fiscal year,” Agent Kallinger told News 11. “These smuggling organizations have utilized us for the last year in order to transport their people, these false families, these children up into different parts of America,” he said.
Agents told News 11 that a decade ago, processing illegal immigrants would take about eight hours per person. With a changed demographic, that’s completely changed.
“Now, the fact that most of these people are other than Mexicans from other countries other than Mexico, their time for processing is taking upwards of 72 hours per person. This equates to a large amount of money that we now have to fund for this more humanitarian crisis that we’re dealing with,” Kallinger added.
Agent Kallinger said the sector has spent over $300,000 last year to provide items like diapers, formula, or food to illegal immigrants. This year, the agency’s spending has already doubled.
Campos said the agency needs three things.
“In order to really stop this crisis, for a lack of a better word, is to have all three of those, a physical barrier, we have to have more agents, more resources, more technology, and we need that legislature,” he said.
Just about a decade ago, 350 agents called Yuma Sector home. Now, the agency has a little more than 800 agents protecting 126 miles of linear border.
“One-hundred seventeen of it has a man-made structure,” Agent Kallinger said.
The other nine miles has a natural infrastructure like mountains or a river.
So, News 11 checked out those parts of the border.
Along the way, we saw this section of the border fence that drops off. You’d think it’s an accessible spot for illegal immigrants. Agent Kallinger said that’s not how it all works.
“These people own these plazas and they would rather risk these peoples lives than come over here and maybe try to come in an easier spot, and that’s because they pay money. So in order to own this plaza, if that smuggler over there wants to bring their people here, he has to pay them an actual fee, per person,” he said.
The next section of the wall doesn’t have any barbed wire or steel plates. The barriers in place were designed in 2005 to stop vehicles from crossing into the U.S. Now, the problem is agents are dealing with more pedestrian traffic. Crossing these barriers are as easy as jumping over or crawling under.
“So, when you’re getting groups of 50 or 60, they’re just walking up and then going over or under it and they go right up to the canal bank where you saw the agents and turn themselves in,” Agent Kallinger said.
Agents told News 11 that migrants are abusing the loopholes in the legislature.
“They know 20 days no matter what, however that looks for them, they got 20 days since the day they were apprehended, and then they can go into the country,” Kallinger said.
“Basically, they found the weak spots to where they can continue coming into our country,” Campos added.
That’s why agents are calling for more infrastructure.
“A wall is only a piece of a multi-facet situation,” Campos said.
The Department of Homeland Security issued two waivers which ensure expeditious construction of new bollard wall within the U.S. Border Patrol Yuma Sector. According to DHS, the projects covered by the waivers include up to approximately 53 miles of new bollard wall in place of dilapidated and outdated designs.
The Yuma project was awarded to Barnard Construction Co. Inc. for approximately $187 million.
These projects will total approximately 7 miles of bollard wall within these areas:
1. Starting at the Morelos Dam and extending south and generally following the Colorado River for approximately five and one-half (5.5) miles.
2. Starting two and one-half (2.5) miles east of Border Monument 198 and extending east to Border Monument 197.
Until that happens, Agent Kallinger said he and thousands of others will continue to put on their green uniform.
“They're here every single day, 365, working hard to make sure that our country is safe. No, we don’t want them in processing, we don’t want their daily grind to be in what we're dealing with now, we want it out here, guarding the borders and making the community safe,” Agent Kallinger said.