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Border patrol agents: Humanitarian crisis at the Arizona-Mexico border

Valley company named finalist for border wall
Posted at 10:44 PM, Feb 01, 2019

YUMA — Illegal immigrants are jumping over a 16-foot-tall fence, digging holes to crawl beneath it, and even using tools to cut through the razor-sharp barbed wire -- this is the reality border patrol agents in Arizona are dealing with, even in areas that have a wall.

Thousands of miles away from the political bickering and partisan stand-off over border security, the humanitarian crisis at the border is what agents see day in and day out.

Border Patrol agents at the Yuma and Tucson sectors have been working around the clock to catch migrants who've breached the border and drug smugglers who bring massive quantities of narcotics into the country. And lately, they're seeing many migrants who suffer severe injuries in their desperate journey to make a life in America.

Using the start of 2019 as an indicator, Yuma agents said they catch anywhere from 100-200 illegal immigrants a day.

RELATED: Southern U.S. illegal border crossings: See how many illegal and legal crossings happen

Click on each point in the map below to see each border sector's breakout of apprehensions for fiscal year 2018. Locations of each border sector are approximate.

"It's not uncommon to have more than 1,000 in a week," said Agent Justin Kallinger, an Operations Officer with the Yuma Sector Public affairs office. "We see the broken ankles, the broken vertebrae. We've seen it on children, on teenagers, and young adults."

Agents described the heartbreak of seeing a three-year-old child fall from the top of a 16-foot high wall in the past three weeks. Thankfully, the child's injuries were minor, but agents say a 14-year-old girl who took the risky leap suffered multiple broken bones in her vertebrae and had to be flown to an Arizona hospital for treatment.

Border patrol agents say career human smugglers who work for cartels in Mexico are to blame for a lot of this human suffering.

"These individuals that cross into the U.S. illegally, they're relying on smugglers that guide them. They pay these smugglers anywhere from $500 to $5,000. Once they get here, they do a lot of times, what the smuggler tells them to do. He tells them to get inside the water and swim they'll do that. He tells them to climb a tall ladder and jump across the border wall. What do they know any better?" said Border Patrol agent Jose Garibay, with the Yuma sector Public Affairs office.

The Yuma sector of the U.S-Mexico border is an area that runs about 276 miles.

Agents said only 117 miles of that stretch contains infrastructure. The rest is made up of rugged mountain terrain, the Colorado River, sand dunes and rural farmland.

Floating fences that can move up and down in the Imperial sand dunes, pedestrian fencing, Normandy barriers, and steel walls were all built to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.; however, based on videos released by border patrol agents in recent months, it is clear those barriers are no deterrent for determined migrants willing to risk life, limb, and in some cases, their dignity to get to America.

"We've heard stories from individuals that have been violated and raped in some instances by smugglers and individuals that they've traveled with," Garibay said.

ABC15 asked agents what type of border security measures they would like to see in Yuma.

Agents agreed they needed more than the wall built in 2005, which is continually breached by illegal immigrants.

"What we want is a wall system, and with that comes technology. Not just a physical barrier, we need remote video surveillance, and ground sensors so we can detect if someone is breaching the wall," Kallinger said.

Agents also feel that a taller wall that goes not only up, but deep underground would help prevent many of the risky, daring illegal entries they are seeing.

"Adding ten more feet is definitely a deterrence factor. There have been studies that have been done that show as you get to a certain height, individuals no longer want to make that attempt to drop off the border," Garibay said.

For those migrants who are fleeing from poverty and violence in their home countries, agents stressed there are better ways to present their cases -- ways that are legal and will not endanger their lives.

"They don't want to run from us, they just want to be processed and come into the country," Kallinger said. "Our goal is for these people to understand that there is a right way to do this. They go to the port of entry, they ask for asylum, and they're granted it or not granted it."

The White House has announced a new policy in which migrants who enter illegally will be taken to Mexico and told to seek asylum there. Migrants are already being turned away in San Diego, but in Yuma, agents said they had not received that directive yet.