NOGALES, Arizona — Standing in the Border Patrol station here, Vice President Mike Pence called for Congress to close “loopholes” in asylum laws to deter thousands of Central American asylum-seekers from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’m here because President Trump and I recognize we have a crisis on our southern border,” Pence said after a briefing at the Border Patrol station.

As he spoke, robots used to explore border tunnels were set up on a conference table in front of him, alongside carpet booties used to hide footprints in the desert, and several rocks. Next to him, a windshield that appeared to have been damaged by a rock was hanging from the wall, and poster boards were set up with photos of significant busts in the Tucson Sector.

Being in Nogales “reinforces the determination we have to get you the resources, build the physical barrier, but also to make the changes in the law that are necessary to end that humanitarian crisis you see depicted here,” Pence said, pointing to a poster board showing 135 people apprehended west of Lukeville on April 8.

Pence said he was told by a Customs and Border Protection official that 4,300 people were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday, making it the highest single-day total.

The Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which includes Nogales, was the “epicenter a decade ago of illegal immigration,” Pence said.

“Because of your work here and because of the presence of physical barriers, that’s diminished greatly,” he said. “But in Texas and in other areas we see this incredible flow.”

“There’s no question people are suffering on both sides of the border. I just finished walking through the detention center and every American has a heavy heart,” Pence said.

“The fact is that we have loopholes in our laws today that human traffickers and drug cartels are using to entice vulnerable families to make the long and dangerous journey up from Central America to come into our country illegally,” he said. “These people, these families, are being exploited by drug cartels and human traffickers.”

He and President Trump are calling on Congress to “close the loopholes in our asylum laws” to allow federal agencies “to return individuals that are apprehended in this country to their countries in Central America the way that we can today in Mexico to give us greater flexibility with regard to detention as we process individuals.”

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

He also pointed to a need to “change what is known commonly as ‘catch and release,’” he said. “People know in Central America that human traffickers will take cash to bring them up here and tell them if you make it, the Americans have a system where you can vanish.”

Pence said the Trump administration is planning to build “physical barriers in the next year” on about 80 miles of the border in the Tucson and Yuma sectors.

Minutes later, a motorcade that included Pence, Secret Service agents, Border Patrol agents, and two vans full of reporters barreled along the dirt roads that crisscross the desert west of the Mariposa Port of Entry.

A group of Border Patrol agents assembled to greet him next to the border fence, which had rows of concertina wire hanging on it.

Pence reiterated many of the points he made at the station. He also said, when asked about the possible return of family separations at the border, that President Trump had made clear he was not considering restarting that practice.

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or or on Twitter @CurtTucsonStar