SONOYTA, Mexico (Border Report) – Karina Zayas has learned to do business with newly arrived citizens of Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon who speak neither English nor Spanish.
“Mostly they point to things. ‘I want this, I want that.’ When it comes to numbers, we do this,” the Mexican fruit drinks and ice cream vendor says, holding up one, two or three fingers. “If they are short 5 pesos, we go like this. … If they have change coming, I just give it to them.”
The African migrants wandering the streets of Sonoyta opposite Lukeville, Arizona, are part of a new surge some U.S. lawmakers and law enforcement officials say is overwhelming federal processing and detention resources and leading to street releases.
On Monday, a Border Report team witnessed U.S. Border Patrol agents accommodating recently apprehended migrants inside canvas tents at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The agents then escorted them into white vans for transportation to processing centers. As the vans left, more Border Patrol vehicles entered the environmental preserve and sped through a dirt road leading to the border wall, where more migrants apparently had just been spotted.
This happens as southern Arizona has become the nation’s hotbed for migration between lawful ports of entry. In July, the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which only includes Eastern Arizona, recorded 39,215 migrant apprehensions, tops in the nation.
Sector Chief Patrol Agent John R. Modlin reported 13,000 migrant apprehensions, 1,300 rescues from the border wall or the desert, 23 human smuggling events and nine drug seizures last week alone.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows that migrants are coming almost literally from everywhere. The numbers show 15,749 Mexican nationals came across near Nogales, Douglas, Naco and Lukeville in July; almost 8,000 others came from the Northern Triangle of Central America. But 15,518 were citizens of other countries in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres.
Mahmoud and a friend on Monday sat outside a furniture store in Sonoyta waiting for a money transfer. The two citizens of Mauritania spoke some Spanish and no English. They talked with Border Report with the assistance of an interpreting cellphone app. They had more questions than answers and declined to say why they left their country and are seeking asylum in the United States.
“For now, we are here. We have not left. The new (guy) is exchanging our money. That is what has us waiting here, sitting,” Mahmoud said. After a pause in which he asked the reporter many questions, he said, “There are many people that have (entered) the United States. We would like to (join) them there. It is (not) easy.”
Another group of French-speaking migrants sat outside a nearby grocery store. One said in Spanish they were headed north and also waiting for a money transfer but would say no more.
Gustavo Solis, secretary of government in Sonoyta, said the town has seen migrants from many countries pass through on the way to the U.S. for generations. He said the surge of migrants from African countries is a novelty, but is no cause for concern and is, in fact, a financial boon.
“They buy food and other items from our businesses. We have had no problems with them and we do not get involved in immigration matters because that is a federal concern,” Solis said.
But he said the latest uptick in migrant arrivals prompted the city to open a temporary shelter two months ago. “There is a bottleneck to enter (the United States), whether we are talking San Luis Rio Colorado (south of Yuma, Arizona), Mexicali, Tijuana,” Solis said. “Here in Sonoyta, we respect their rights. […] Our city does not mind their stay or their passing through here.”
Karina, the fruit juice and ice cream vendor, also said she doesn’t mind the migrants.
“Things are hard for them. They come looking for an opportunity and sometimes they don’t get that,” she said.