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Officials see need to boost Arizona border security despite fall in activity

Government contractors erect a section of Pentagon-funded border wall along the Colorado River, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 in Yuma, Ariz. The 30-foot high wall replaces a five-mile section of Normandy barrier and post-n-beam fencing, shown at left, along the the International border that separates Mexico and the United States. Construction began as federal officials revealed a list of Defense Department projects to be cut to pay for President Donald Trump's wall. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX – Although apprehensions of people entering the U.S. illegally from Mexico have plummeted in recent months, authorities say the need to bolster border security in Arizona and across the Southwest hasn’t declined.

Jose Garibay, Yuma Sector Border Patrol agent and spokesman, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday that policy changes, reallocation of resources and stepped-up efforts from Mexican authorities to secure the border have contributed to the recent decline in apprehensions.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, Yuma Sector apprehensions peaked in May at 13,925 people, more than 10,915 of whom were members of family units.

In August, the total was down to 1,883 apprehensions, about 1,239 of whom were members of family units.

Across the Southwest border, the total fell from nearly 132,859 in May to less than 50,693 last month.

But until Congress passes permanent immigration policy fixes, there’s concern the numbers could surge again at any time, Garibay said.

“We’ve cut our apprehensions in Yuma Sector by almost 86%, and we can directly attribute that to the operations that Mexico has been running. But … we don’t look at that as a permanent solution,” he said. “We need the solution to be Congress doing its job and closing those immigration loopholes.”

Specifically, Garibay said the Flores settlement, which limits how long the government can detain immigrant children, remains a draw for immigrant families and unaccompanied minors to cross the border illegally.

“The important thing is to realize that the core pull factors that started this crisis in the first place, the Flores settlement agreement and the loophole that it brought along with it, are still not closed,” he said.

“So we’re doing everything that we can as the executive branch, as the U.S. Border Patrol and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] overall, in order to help stem the tide of illegal immigration while we’re still asking for those loopholes to closed.”

At one point, Garibay said, Yuma Sector had more than 1,600 people in custody despite having the capacity to hold only around 400.

Capacity was increased to more than 900 after a tent holding facility was opened earlier this year, but there are currently only about 80 people in custody, Garibay said.

However, he emphasized, that doesn’t mean the border crisis is a thing of the past.

“We may be in a reprieve right now, but we’re using that reprieve to optimize our systems, to make sure that we’re prepared if and when this influx does start up again, because we know that core factors … are still not fixed,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ashley Flood contributed to this report.

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