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Who's crossing Arizona's border? Agents give inside look at illegal crossings

Posted at 10:01 PM, Feb 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-06 08:16:20-05

YUMA, AZ  — Illegal immigration and the "crisis at the border" has been a hot topic as the stand-off over the border wall continues.

ABC15 Arizona has been tracking the number of criminals who have entered the United States illegally over the last year.

The latest numbers released by Customs and Border Patrol agents in Arizona show there were more than 78,000 illegal immigrants caught in 2018.

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

Video released by CBP shows illegal immigrants climbing and jumping off the border wall, in some cases digging holes and crawling under it to get into the United States.

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

While most people agents arrest are related, the latest numbers also show a roughly 20 percent spike in the number of unaccompanied minors who have entered illegally in 2018.

According to press releases dating back to January 2018, at least 64 sex offenders were caught coming into the country illegally. Agents say, in some cases, these convicted sex offenders will try to blend in and pretend to be a relative of a child. Agents said these criminals are trying to take advantage of a loophole in U.S. law, the Flores Settlement, that requires a guardian traveling with a minor to be released after a certain number of days.

Of the 64 sex offenders, most them were child molesters and rapists. Agents said these criminals had already been convicted and deported and were now trying to sneak back into the U.S.

"That's not someone we want in our country. No ma'am," said Agent Justin Kallinger, a spokesman for the Yuma Sector of Customs and Border Patrol.

Also, since January 2018, 14 criminals who had been convicted of murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter were found illegally re-entering the country after deportation.

In addition, there were 29 gang members, most of them affiliated with the deadly Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 gang. Other gang affiliations included the 18th Street gang, Sureno, and the Paisa Prison gang.

Press releases put out by CBP indicate many of these gang members had committed crimes in the states where they lived before they were deported. Vehicle break-ins, assaults, and murder are among some of the crimes that led to their arrest and deportation.

Some of these criminals were heading back into the communities where they had committed these crimes to reunite with family or start a new life in another community.

The biggest problem agents saw at the border were drug and human smuggling. At least 450 drug smugglers were caught bringing hard narcotics like heroin, cocaine, meth, and fentanyl into the country. These drugs were hidden in car compartments, tractor trailers, even strapped onto childrens' bodies.

More than 400 drug smugglers were stopped by CBP agents. While most of these arrests took place at a port of entry, most of the drug dealers and human smugglers are U.S. citizens, some Mexican nationals, and virtually no Central Americans.

Agents charged with making these arrests say while these numbers may be a fraction of the 78,000 people crossing illegally to seek asylum in the U.S., the arrest of even one criminal is significant to them.

"What I always tell people is it only takes one. It only takes one for us to lose our lives. It only takes one for a family member to lose one of their most wanted people," said Kallinger.

Agents said the actual number of criminal apprehensions may be a lot higher than what's reported because not every arrest is in a press release.

Statistics on apprehensions and the officials' breakdown of the number of drugs seized by agents has been delayed by a month due to the government shutdown.

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.