Continuing our coverage of the border crisis: Much attention is understandably focused on the flood of illegal border crossers turning themselves in, in south Texas. But there’s a flip side, as we learned on our recent trip to the border: a corresponding increase in those trying to avoid capture, usually because they’re involved in criminal activities.
The Biden Administration is keeping tight reins on access to places where illegal immigrants and minors are being processed, held and released. These images were taken by Border Patrol officials in Donna, Texas and provided to the media.
Border Patrol says Mexican drug cartels control, coordinate and profit from nearly every illegal crossing, orchestrating the flood in some places while moving drugs through others. So while they’re turning themselves in in Texas, they’re largely trying to escape capture here in Arizona.
John Modlin is chief patrol agent for the Tucson, Arizona sector.
Sharyl: Is Arizona more drugs and human trafficking?
John Modlin: What we're seeing now is a significant increase in hard narcotics through the area, fentanyl, especially. In terms of people being smuggled, exactly as you said: in other places people are crossing just to give up, to get caught, to be put into the immigration system. Here, it's everyone's trying to evade.
Those trying to avoid apprehension sometimes head to the Baboquivari Mountains in Arizona near the Mexican border where we’re headed today.
CBP Agent: As we continue north in these mountains, you're going to see the terrain get dramatically worse, and there is no way to get a vehicle up into any of these areas other than an aircraft.
We’re with an air crew responsible for a steady stream of captures that turn into rescues.
CBP Agent: It's a lot easier to evade detection and apprehension up here.
CBP Agent: The majority of our big rescues that we have to do, I'll show you this particular area, it’s called “Jurassic Ridge” and you'll see why. People get up in there and just get stuck, get hurt, they give up, it's an intimidating area. You can see how jagged it is. There is a trail that runs pretty much on that ridge line here.
This video shows a daring rescue in February: a 125-foot hoist extraction to save an illegal immigrant suffering from severe dehydration.
In the same mountains, two illegal immigrants rescued after one called 911 and complained of foot injuries.
Two more rescued with a 95-foot hoist. One of them, a woman had fallen off a ten foot cliff and was bleeding from the head.
CBP Agent: It's basically single adult males so maybe a little bit of ego, little bit of bravado, or they're just absolutely not trying to be captured, they're prior felons, prior deports, criminal aliens.
CBP Agent: Which is a good point. Like this weekend we arrested two sex offenders, one out of Three Points and one out of Tucson. The guy did 15 years in Wichita, Kansas and all of a sudden he's coming back and we picked him up.
Steven Adkison is Tucson’s Division Chief of Operations.
Steven Adkison: Here in the Tucson sector, what we're really seeing an increase in is the single adults that are crossing through here, which is worrisome, because those are the ones that we're really interested in knowing why these people are running. They're not giving up. They're purposefully trying to evade arrest and detection.
Senator Ron Johnson recently went to the Texas border with a large group from Congress. We spoke shortly before the trip.
Senator Ron Johnson: So what's so depressing about what's happening now is this is all déjà vu. This is exactly what was happening from 2015, up to the huge spike in 2019. It takes a little while for people to realize how to exploit our laws. But once they figured it out, it just took off, and it really reached its peak in the spring, early summer of 2019. There’s some level of a cycle to illegal immigration, and the January time period is kind of the tail end and then starts ramping up again in spring and early summer. So the fact that it ramped up so dramatically, so fast indicates that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Modlin: There’s always push and pull factors. And right now it seems like it's, certainly, leading to an incredible increase in people coming through this area.
Sharyl: What is it that people should know, if they don't come down here and visit, that they don't know?
Modlin: We can secure the border, we can do it humanely at the same time. And that our agents have died protecting those people that are crossing the border, illegally. Back in 2019 during the last real immigration crisis, agents were bringing in food, and diapers from home to take care of the people in our custody. Often we're painted as a force that we're not. We're out here to secure the border, first and foremost, that's our mission and, of course, to protect the people out here while we're doing so.
Sharyl (on-camera): The Tucson sector reports that during our visit arrests were up 97-percent over the year before.
An update to our border investigation: the Government Accountability Office is looking into President Biden’s sudden halt of border wall construction.
Several weeks ago we first reported on the overnight freeze in construction. It left large gaps in the wall now being exploited by Mexican drug cartels. Now, at least 44 Senators and 60 Republican House members are asking GAO for a legal opinion. The question is whether President Biden overstepped in exerting authority over funds allocated by Congress, which approved $1.4 billion to build the wall. It was part of the $900 billion stimulus package in December.
Sharyl (on-camera): A self-imposed deadline for the Biden Administration to decide whether to draw Trump's border wall project to a tidier, more secure close has passed with no public word on what’s next.