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Southern Arizona border agents seeing their share of group crossings

(AP photo)

PHOENIX — The Yuma Sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection is feeling the surge in large groups crossing the southern border from Mexico.

Before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Chief Carla Provost testified that her agents have encountered 68 groups — some with hundreds of people — this year alone.

The past two years, coast-to-coast, agents saw just 15 groups.

“We had a group, a couple months ago, that was 376,” said Yuma Sector Agent Justin Kallinger. “But normally what we see are groups of 20 to 30.”

The groups usually contain several families.

“The guardians — parents — with a juvenile in a group, and then the unaccompanied children — juveniles under the age of 18,” Kallinger said.

Provost also testified that 80 percent of these groups left from rising violence in Central America.

Often, Kallinger said, drug dealers, human traffickers and other violent criminals infiltrate these groups. But most of these migrants know U.S. law only allows for three weeks’ detention.

“And if their cases aren’t adjudicated, then they are released into the United States, awaiting their adjudication and immigration court,” Kallinger said.

“They’re not trying to evade us anymore. Right now, they’re utilizing us in order to get them into America. We’re doing what the smugglers used to do.”

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