Geneva Sands, CNN,
In the early morning hours Thursday, several busloads of migrants were dropped off on Highway 2 in Mexico, just south of the Arizona border.
“They walked about 100 yards, climbed under and over the vehicle barrier that is the only infrastructure in that area and agents were called in to make the arrest,” said acting Tucson Border Patrol Chief Jeffrey Self.
In total, 242 people — mostly families from Guatemala — were arrested when Border Patrol agents arrived at the scene after the migrants were detected by a mobile surveillance system.
This was one of the largest single groups crossing the Arizona border over the last year, according to Border Patrol, and comes on the heels of other large groups illegally crossing at other parts of the border.
Earlier this month, Border Patrol agents stationed in the Yuma, Arizona, sector took around 375 migrants into custody after they had made it into the United States. Last week, a group of 306 migrants were taken into custody in a remote part of New Mexico near the border.
In Arizona earlier this month, agents encountered a group of 85 Central Americans after they arrived by bus and illegally entered the country in the same general area of Thursday’s crossing.
In December, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan raised concerns that a new trend was emerging of very large groups of migrants arriving at the southern border by bus and unloading in remote areas.
“So far in this fiscal year, and this has been a brand-new phenomenon this fiscal year, we have started to see extremely large groups arrive together several times, usually once or twice a week since about mid-October,” said McAleenan in December.
Of that group, 130 were children and 11 of those children arrived unaccompanied, without legal guardians.
“It’s a situation where not only are we overwhelmed with the numbers and the fact that there are so many children and (families) that are involved in this,” said Self, but also “the fact that our system is not set up to handle family units. It’s set up to handle adults.”
Echoing comments made by other Border Patrol officials, Self pointed out that the Border Patrol facilities had been designed for single men, not children.
“Basically, you just turned an adult short-term detention center into … basically, a day care center. There’s nothing for them to do there. You’ve got to watch them, you have to separate them from non-family members, you only have so much detention space,” he said.
Self told CNN that the increase in large group apprehensions is taking resources away from other border security missions, like narcotics interdiction.
“The manpower that is dedicated to having to deal with the children and the families really creates a situation where it makes us vulnerable in other areas of the border because we are having to collapse in on this one incident with additional resources that were out patrolling other parts of the border,” which opens up other regions to exploitation, said Self.