ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona border crossing closes as officials grapple with changing migration routes

Dec 4, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: Dec 20, 2023, 12:22 pm

FILE - Asylum-seekers walk to a U.S. Border Patrol van after crossing the nearby border with Mexico...

FILE - Asylum-seekers walk to a U.S. Border Patrol van after crossing the nearby border with Mexico, Tuesday Sept. 26, 2023, near Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif. Migrants continue to arrive to desert campsites along California's border with Mexico, as they await processing. Congress is discussing changes to the immigration system in exchange for providing money to Ukraine in its fight against Russia and Israel for the war with Hamas. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — So many migrants are crossing from Mexico into the United States around remote Lukeville, Arizona, that U.S. officials say they will close the port of entry there so that the operations officials who watch over vehicle and pedestrian traffic going both ways can help Border Patrol agents arrest and process the new arrivals.

Customs and Border Protection announced Friday that the temporary closure of the crossing will start Monday as officials grapple with changing migration routes that have overwhelmed Border Patrol agents stationed there. Arizona’s U.S. senators and governor called planned closure “unacceptable.”

Customs and Border Protection said it is “surging all available resources to expeditiously and safely process migrants” and will “continue to prioritize our border security mission as necessary in response to this evolving situation.”

The area around the desert crossing has become a major migration route in recent months, with smugglers dropping off people from countries as diverse as Senegal, India and China. Most of them are walking into the U.S. west of Lukeville through gaps in the wall, then head east toward the official border crossing to surrender to the first agents they see in hopes for a chance at asylum.

The Border Patrol made 17,500 arrests for illegal crossings during the past week in the agency’s Tucson sector, John Modlin, the sector chief, said Friday, That translates to a daily average of 2,500, well above its daily average of 1,700 in September, when Tucson was already the busiest corridor for illegal crossings by far along U.S.-Mexico border.

Customs and Border Protection blamed the hundreds of people arriving daily around Lukeville on “smugglers peddling disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals.”

It was unclear how long the crossing would be shut.

Although it is remote, the Lukeville border crossing is the one regularly used to travel from Arizona to Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, a resort area in the Mexican state of Sonora on the Sea of Cortez. Americans also drive through the crossing to visit the border community of Sonoyta for a meal, shop or to get less expensive dental and medical care.

Some Mexican children ride a northbound bus across the border every day to go to school.

Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, along with Gov. Katie Hobbs, blasted the planned closure and demanded better solutions from President Joe Biden’s administration.

“This is an an unacceptable outcome that further destabilizes our border, risks the safety of our communities, and damages our economy by disrupting trade and tourism,” they said in a joint statement. “The Federal Government must act swiftly to maintain port of entry operations, get the border under control, keep Arizona communities safe, and ensure the humane treatment of migrants.”

Kelly and Hobbs, both Democrats, and Sinema, an independent who was elected as a Democrat, also criticized “partisan politicians who parrot talking points while watching the border further deteriorate.”

They said those politicians should instead ”reject the echo chamber and work with us to get something done and keep our communities safe.”

An average of 3,140 people in vehicles and 184 pedestrians entered the U.S. daily in Lukeville during October, according to the U.S. Transportation Department’s latest figures.

Travelers will still be able to cross into or out of the United States through Nogales, Arizona, a three-hour drive to the east, or San Luis, Arizona, a two-hour drive to the west.

Customs and Border Protection last week began limiting traffic at the Lukeville port. The agency also closed one of two bridges to vehicles in Eagle Pass, Texas, a town of about 30,000 people that, for a while last year, was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings.

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Arizona border crossing closes as officials grapple with changing migration routes