By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – In the first three months of fiscal 2023, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona brought criminal charges against nearly 1,456 foreign nationals who’d illegally entered and then reentered the U.S. They also filed 260 cases against individuals charged with smuggling illegal foreign nationals in Arizona.
The cases are from the Tucson and Yuma U.S. Customs and Border Protection Sectors in Arizona, which cover the entire Arizona-Mexico border. The numbers only include U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutions and exclude CBP prosecutions.
The Yuma Sector covers the southeast corner of Arizona – approximately 181,670 square miles of primarily desert terrain divided between California and Arizona and 126 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border from the Imperial Sand Dunes in California to the Yuma-Pima County line in Arizona. The Tucson Sector covers most of the state of Arizona from the New Mexico State line to the Yuma County line and 262 shared border miles with Mexico. Both sectors saw more than 816,000 apprehensions and gotaways in fiscal 2022, a record high.
Tucson Sector Chief John Modlin recently testified before Congress that the “vast majority of encounters are single adult males attempting to avoid detection. The smuggling organizations to our south are very well organized and resourceful,” Chief Modlin said, referring to Mexican cartels. “Each and every person crossing through the Tucson Sector must pay these criminal organizations. These criminal organizations employ various tactics to move thousands of migrants illegally across the border.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted the cases in partnership with officials from CBP Tucson and Yuma Sectors, Homeland Security Investigations, and others.
“Reducing migrant smuggling and mitigating the risk to communities impacted by these offenses continues to be a priority” of the office, it said in a statement. “Some of these prosecutions are directed against leaders and coordinators of non-U.S. citizen smuggling organizations, “ referring to Mexican cartels. “Other prosecutions are aimed at deterring young adult drivers, often recruited over social media platforms, from engaging in this dangerous activity. Prosecutions against young drivers include three cases brought against juvenile smugglers during this time period.”
Law enforcement officials have told The Center Square they’ve identified a trend of increasingly apprehending young adults responding to social media posts to pick up and transport illegal foreign nationals along the border and drive them north to drop off points with the hope of making several thousand dollars a carload. When caught, instead they are charged with multiple felony counts of smuggling of persons, which can carry a sentence of multiple years in prison.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed increasing penalties for violating the state crime of human smuggling to a minimum of 10 years in prison. Others have proposed five years in prison per count of smuggling. On Thursday, Gov. Abbott said, “Illegal smuggling is being aided and abetted by U.S. residents. That must stop. We must impose a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least 10 years for anyone caught smuggling illegal immigrants in Texas.”
Texas law enforcement officials and residents of border communities have told The Center Square they support the state increasing stronger penalties for human smuggling.