/ Modified nov 17, 2018 7:55 p.m.

Military at Border; Processing Asylum Seekers; Court Backlog

Plus, a tour of an area of the desert where illegal border crossings have surged.

Active-duty troops began arriving at the U.S. Mexico border in Arizona last week to support the needs of Customs and Border Protection as part of the Department of Homeland Security's Operation Secure Line. More than 1,500 troops in total were expected to deploy to Arizona. Their duties so far include installing concertina wire on portions of the fence in Nogales. Military officials have said their mission isn't to stop the approaching caravan of migrants from Central America, but to support CBP.

“Given recent events in Mexico, there is a concern that large groups will attempt to rush the port of entry, put officers at risk, damage infrastructure, and disrupt trade and travel," CBP Director of Field Operations Petra Horne said during a recent news conference.

Border Patrol's Tucson Sector has seen more than a 40 percent increase in the number of apprehensions compared to last year. Agents are arresting about 200 people a day in the sector.

The bulk of that activity is happening in the west desert near Lukeville. Arizona 360 toured the area with agent Daniel Hernandez and learned more about emerging methods used for crossing the border.

The tour also included a visit at the Ajo Border Patrol station where immigrants are processed shortly after they're detained in the desert. No cameras or audio recorders were allowed. Inside, several men were kept in a holding cell together. Families with young children were kept together in separate cells. Hernandez said the agency's goal is to screen each individual and send them to their next destination within 24 hours.

The increase in arrests at the border translates into a new normal for the Border Patrol. Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent Rodolfo Karisch discussed how the agency is handling the influx.

Karisch explained more about the rise in family units requesting asylum in recent months and how drug cartels are profiting from the surge.

The Department of Homeland Security manages the country’s immigration system. Once Border Patrol processes individuals, they usually transition into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE Field Director Henry Lucero oversees enforcement and removal proceedings in Arizona. He discussed how the agency determines where to send people and how court rulings like the Flores Settlement pose challenges.

Many immigrants, especially families, are released and helped by nonprofits and churches with shelter and travel to their next destination. Nancy Montoya profiles one of these groups based in Tucson. Over the last two years, Casa Alitas has helped 4,700 immigrants. It's run by Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona. Casa Alitas volunteers and workers are in touch with ICE officers tasked with bringing families to the shelter.

The recent influx of asylum seekers comes as the immigration court system is already experiencing severe backlogs. To discuss some of the challenges straining the judicial system, Arizona Daily Star border and immigration reporter Perla Trevizo and University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law professor Shefali MIlczarek-Desai joined Lorraine Rivera in the Arizona 360 studio.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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