Border Patrol agents in Arizona, facing what officials say is an unusually large number of migrants crossing into a desolate part of the border, are being forced to keep some migrants outdoors in fenced-off areas in the latest sign of fluctuating migration patterns at the border.
A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the agency has been working to address “large numbers of migrants” crossing into the desert area near Ajo, where agents have reduced time in custody to 15 hours before they are transported to more populated areas with better facilities to handle large numbers.
“The U.S. Border Patrol has surged personnel and transportation resources to respond to the increase in encounters in the area – some of the hottest, most isolated, and dangerous area of the southwest border – where individuals have been callously sent by smuggling organizations to walk for miles, often with little or no water,” a spokesperson said.
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As seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter, rugged terrain of the Ajo Mountains towers over the Sonoran Desert on September 28, 2022, at the Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona. ((Photo by John Moore/Getty Images))
The area has been the subject of a number of media reports that have shown pictures of an area surrounded by a chain-linked fence which outlets reporting on it have described as a “cage” holding migrants. The Daily Mail reported this week that migrants were crammed onto narrow benches as they sought shade and took turns cooling off in front of giant fans.
The Intercept had reported last month that it had seen roughly 50 migrants in the pen during a heatwave in the area. It has sparked anger from immigration rights groups who have called the situation “inhumane” and abusive. It’s the latest in a string of controversies spanning multiple administrations over the treatment of migrants in times of overcrowding.
But CBP is pushing back against accusations of mistreatment and says it is the smugglers who have dumped these migrants in the middle of a desert. CBP says it’s working to transport illegal migrants as quickly as possible to where they can receive care.
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Officials have stressed that the area sees some of the hottest temperatures in the state – ground temperatures sometimes exceed 150 degrees and the region has little infrastructure, shelter or water. The Ajo station is not equipped to hold large numbers of migrants given that historically the area receives relatively few migrant crossings, so they are quickly transported to other parts of Arizona better able to handle larger numbers.
Agents assess and screen migrants with biometrics and background checks, and prioritize transport and care of those who are vulnerable or require immediate attention, CBP said.
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Immigrants wait to be processed by the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the border from Mexico on December 30, 2022, in Yuma, Arizona. (Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images)
But as they are awaiting transport to more extensive facilities, CBP says some adult male migrants may be rotated to the outside facility as needed. The agency says that the area is shaded and monitored and migrants are provided with bathrooms, meals and water. If migrants say they are not feeling well or show signs of illness, they are brought in and screened.
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“Border Patrol has prioritized the quick transporting of noncitizens encountered in this desert environment, which is particularly dangerous during current weather conditions, to USBP facilities where individuals can receive medical care, food and water. USBP has utilized outdoor shaded areas only when necessary and for very short times while they await onward transportation to larger facilities,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson also noted that there have been no major medical emergencies due to the heat once they have been taken into custody, and no deaths of those rescued.
The controversy over Ajo marks the latest sign of how officials and agencies at the border are struggling to deal with migrants who are brought in and very quickly need an array of humanitarian aid given their precarious situation.
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This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s fired back against criticism of his floating border barrier after Mexico appeared to tie the death of a migrant in the Rio Grande to the barrier, which is also the target of a lawsuit by the Department of Justice.
The Biden administration is facing troubles of its own as it battles in court to defend an asylum rule that restricts asylum claims for migrants who have entered illegally and failed to claim asylum in a prior country through which they traveled. It was granted a reprieve this week when an order blocking the rule was stayed by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Fox News Digital, primarily covering immigration and border security.