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Feds: More than 500K migrant encounters at Arizona border in 2022

Migrants are processed after being apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents in the desert at the base of the Baboquivari Mountains, Sept. 8 near Sasabe.

Arizona saw a record number of migrant encounters at the border in fiscal year 2022, but federal figures likely were inflated by repeat encounters.

Customs and Border Protection encountered migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona 571,720 times in fiscal year 2022, according to federal data released Friday, an 83% increase over last year.

Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector agents had nearly 252,000 encounters, a 32% increase over last year. And the Yuma Sector agents had nearly 310,100 encounters, a 171% increase.

Like last year, the number of encounters includes a higher percentage of people crossing more than once due to Title 42, a public health policy put in place because of the pandemic that allows the government to immediately expel some migrants from the country.

When a Border Patrol agent or Customs officer encounters an undocumented migrant they either expel them under Title 42 or enter them into immigration law proceedings, where they will either be deported or allowed to remain in the country under some type of legal relief, including a legitimate asylum claim.

Nationwide, there were more than 2,766,500 encounters in fiscal year 2022, which includes October 2021 through September of this year. But more than 36% of these encounters were with someone agents had come upon at least once before in the previous 12 months.

As of August, the government had expelled, and in some cases repatriated, nearly 1,300,500 migrants this fiscal year, which means they expelled or repatriated a larger number than are currently in immigration proceedings, according to CBP’s monthly operational update. As well, more individuals encountered at the border will be removed or expelled this year than any previous year, the August update said.

Nationally, there were about 1,760,000 unique encounters in 2022, according to CBP’s monthly operational updates. At the southern border a monthly average of 25% of encounters were with people who had at least one prior encounter in the last 12 months.

Before Title 42 was in place, there was a 15% average yearly re-encounter rate at the southern border from fiscal year 2014 through 2019.

As well as the increase in repeat crossings, many experts agree that rising levels of violence and worsening economic and political situations, exacerbated by both the pandemic and in some cases climate change, are driving more people from their homes, from Mexico all the way to Brazil and in other parts of the world.

The number of people being expelled under Title 42 rather than entered into immigration law has decreased yearly in Arizona. Since it was implemented in March of 2020, 76% of migrant encounters at the Arizona border resulted in an immediate expulsion to Mexico or other countries during fiscal year 2020. In 2021, that percentage decreased to 59%, and in 2022 it was 41%, keeping on par with the national rate.

One reason for the decrease in Title 42 expulsions may be the increasing number of migrants coming from farther away than Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle.

For the most part Mexico won’t accept migrants from those farther countries, with the more recent exception of Venezuelans. Mexico agreed to accept Venezuelans in a deal with the U.S., which announced a program in October to deny Venezuelans the right to U.S. asylum to keep them from coming to the border and instead allot 24,000 visas for Venezuelans.

The U.S. expelled 1,700 Venezuelans to Mexico in the past week, many bussed to Mexico City to relieve pressure on border cities, according to the Associated Press. Although many Venezuelans are still arriving in border cities like Nogales, Sonora, according to various news reports.

The number of Venezuelans crossing the border undocumented into Arizona increased nearly four-fold over last fiscal year to 44,560 encounters, 42% of which are families and children.

Nearly 25% of all encounters in Arizona in 2022 were with families, at more than 142,400 people. As well, border law enforcement encountered nearly 25,800 unaccompanied minors, a 4% increase over last year and a nearly four-fold increase over fiscal year 2020.

While historically a majority of migrants who entered the country undocumented at the U.S.-Mexico border were from Mexico and the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — that has drastically shifted over the last two years.

In 2020 in Arizona, 92% of border encounters were with people from Mexico and the Northern Triangle, and in 2022 only 47% of encounters were with people from those countries, at 271,449 encounters.

The other 300,271 encounters in 2022 included tens-of-thousands of people from Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, India, Nicaragua and Venezuela, as well as thousands of people from Haiti, Ecuador, Romania and Russia.

Arizona near top in fentanyl seizures

Arizona also saw a huge increase in fentanyl seized at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2022, according to federal data. And Arizona ports of entry had the second highest amount of fentanyl seized after San Diego ports of entry.

In Arizona, nearly 85% of fentanyl seized was at ports of entry where officers seized nearly 4,600 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal year 2022. That is more than double what officers at Arizona ports seized last year. There was a huge spike in seizures in August to more than 1,300 pounds in just that month, up from about 560 in August and back down to about 660 in September.

Conversely, that amount of marijuana seized in 2022 fell dramatically, continuing a 10-year trend away from marijuana smuggling and toward hard narcotics.

Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector seized about 1,190 pounds of marijuana in fiscal year 2022, a 90% decrease from last year, and a fraction of the more than 1,193,000 pounds seized in 2013, the last year before the amount began to drop. Arizona port officers seized 538 pounds in 2022, an 84% decrease from last year. At both of these agencies, the average amount of marijuana seized was 3 pounds.

Officers at Arizona ports also seized 14,400 pounds of methamphetamine and 2,320 pounds of other drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and heroin. Tucson Sector Border Patrol agents seized 2,725 pounds of methamphetamine and 60 pounds of other drugs.

Legislative District 18 candidates Stan Caine, Priya Sundareshan, Nancy Gutierrez and Chris Mathis discuss immigration and border safety. Video by Andrea Morabito For the Arizona Daily Star.

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at dkhmara@tucson.com or 573-4223. On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara


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