KOLD INVESTIGATES: Migrant traffic rose after border wall construction stopped

New numbers from the southern border show migrant apprehensions are near record levels after construction halted.
Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 10:49 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 19, 2022 at 10:05 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - New numbers from the southern border show migrant apprehensions are near record levels.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 207,000 migrants were caught at the U.S.-Mexico border in June. Around 21,000 of those were in the Tucson sector.

So far this fiscal year, more than 1.7 million people have been apprehended. That is more than last year, and we still have several months to go.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden halted construction of the border wall.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey recently announced the state will take border security into its own hands.

Rancher John Ladd is one resident who is hopeful the state’s investment will make a difference.

Ladd’s Cochise County property has been in his family for 127 years.

“This is mine,” he said. “Now it’s my boys and my grandkids’.”

Ladd said about 10 1/2 miles of his south fence is the border.

“If we didn’t deal with the border, I would have an almost perfect life,” Ladd said.

Ladd said over the last 30 years, border patrol has apprehended half a million people on his land, and traffic is picking up.

Apprehensions in the Tucson sector have increased more than 44 percent from last fiscal year, sitting at more than 195,000 men, women and children.

“This is the worst it’s been,” Ladd said. “They are catching 100 people a day on us right now.”

Some of those encounters have left Ladd with images he will not forget.

“What the cartel is doing to their own people, that is absolutely devastating the amount of deaths we’ve had on this ranch, they just go off and leave them,” Ladd said.

Cochise Sheriff Mark Dannels joined KOLD along the border.

“What you are looking at is all the steel, physical barrier that was prepared to go up on the border that was never installed,” Dannels said as he pointed to piles of steel posts lying on the ground alongside the border.

Dannels said some undocumented migrants climb the 30-foot steel posts, while others cut their way through. Dannels said that is a difficult job, since many posts are reinforced with concrete and rebar.

Some posts are marked, showing how many times someone has cut it. One post showed it was cut and repaired on March 16, March 22 and March 25.

We’re told one of the reasons that might be a popular place to cross is because it is low-lying, and harder for border patrol to detect. It is also close to the San Pedro River, which provides a lot of tree cover.

Some completed areas of the wall have intentional gaps.

“The reason we have these open is so the water can flow more easily. So, no matter where you look at the border, you are going to see this, you are going to see absent the physical barrier wasn’t finished, or just nothing but a three-wire fence,” Dannels said.

Tim Williams is the sergeant of the multi-agency Southern Arizona Border Region Enforcement team, or SABRE, composed of full-time members from Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, ICE Homeland Security Investigation and Border Patrol.

Williams took KOLD further up into the Coronado National Forest, where the border wall stops, and barbed wire fence begins.

“Where we are at right now is a key location where you can actually see 40 or 50 miles, so the cartel uses this area to put scouts up to observe what is going on at the border so they can coordinate border crossings in this area,” Williams said.

Here, there’s more rugged terrain, but Williams said that has not stopped people from crossing.

“We definitely see larger groups coming through the areas where there is no wall. This is like this all the way almost to Patagonia, it’s miles and miles of no wall,” Williams said.

Williams said smarter technology, like sensors, are key.

“That was important to us because it allowed us to know what was crossing, what we were going after and all of that got stopped,” he said.

In a meeting with President Biden, Mexico agreed to invest $1.5 billion in smart border technology.

This comes as Ducey recently signed House Bill 2317, which allocates $335 million in state sales tax revenue to build and maintain a wall along the state’s border with Mexico, purchase or install border security technologies, and pay administrative costs.

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