Changes are coming to the Yuma Sector Border Patrol station on Avenue A.
During a press conference Thursday, Yuma Sector Chief Anthony Porvaznik announced that the U.S. Border Patrol is planning to build a new permanent central processing center within the secured perimeter fencing behind the headquarters building.
The new $4 million to $5 million facility, which is currently out for contract, would replace the temporary soft-sided facility built in June, and is expected to be completed sometime next year. Once operational, the facility would be able to accommodate between 500 and 1,000 migrants.
Porvaznik said that because migrant apprehensions have fallen sharply in recent months, there have been discussions about whether to keep the temporary facility past the end of the month, when the contract expires. However, no decision has been made yet.
U.S. Custom and Border Protection spent just under $15 million to set up the temporary facility for four months, which included the cost of meals, laundry and security.
The contract for it, however, is temporary, and includes four more one-month extensions, each potentially coming at a cost of $3 million to $4 million.
“Potentially it could be an eight-month contract,” Porvaznik said. “Right now, since we have had a significant decline in the traffic, it is largely unoccupied.”
During the month of August, Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents apprehended a total of 1,883 people, compared with the 3,558 people apprehended in July, which represents a decline of approximately 47%.
The August apprehension numbers also reflect a decline of 86% from May’s peak of 13,925 arrests. At one point, the Yuma Sector had the highest number of apprehensions along the southern border.
There are several reasons for the decline in those apprehensions, according to Porvaznik, with the Mexican government increasing its efforts to stem the tide of migrants heading north being the biggest factor.
Mexico has apprehended 134,000 people so far this calendar year, compared with about 83,000 in all of 2018.
Porvaznik also cited the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) Program whereby migrants who are seeking admission into the US from Mexico illegally or without proper documentation are returned to Mexico and required to wait outside the country for the duration of their immigration proceedings.
“The government of Mexico has agreed to provide them with appropriate humanitarian protection for the duration of their stay in Mexico,” Porvaznik said. “MPP discourages the abuse of U.S, laws and non-meritorious or false asylum claims.”
Lastly, he said the Department of Homeland Security is withdrawing from the Flores Settlement Agreement, the federal consent decree that has set basic standards for the detention of migrant children and teenagers by the United States since 1997.
Doing so, he explained, would eliminate the 20-day cap for detaining migrant children and allow the agency to keep families together. It also gives the green light for federal officials to expand family detention nationwide. Barring any litigation, the change goes into effect on Oct. 21.
“We are not saying this crisis is over; however, it is significantly reduced at this time,” Porvaznik said. “Unless the laws change, these numbers could easily rise again next year and we will again face the same crisis we faced this year.”
Construction to replace five miles of existing vehicle barriers with a new 30-foot-tall steel bollard-style fence along the Colorado River west of Yuma is also underway, funded by the Department of Defense.
Work crews began erecting the fence last week. Once completed it will stretch from Morelos Dam, which is roughly located at County 8-1/2 Street, at its northernmost point, all the way south to County 12-1/8 Street, where it will end.
Agent Jose Garibay of the Yuma Sector Public Affairs Office explained the area has been identified as a place used extensively by asylum-seeking migrants to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This area is a huge exploit area for a couple of reasons. The Colorado River is only waist high in some places, which makes it easy to cross. And there are only vehicle barriers in the area, which can be walked around,” Garibay said. “We needed a new type of barrier to prevent the illegal crossings, and our answer was the 30 foot-tall fence.”
Garibay added that during the peak of the migrant crisis, agents were apprehending 400 to 450 people a day in the area.
The illegal border activity that has happened within the Yuma Sector the past couple of years resulted in a humanitarian crisis, Porvaznik said, an “untenable” one that the agency was not initially able to handle.
He said that CBP and DHS are taking every step necessary to address the root causes of illegal immigration, but Congress must take action to close the gaps within immigration laws that continue to generate these type of migrant surges.
Porvaznik also stated he was incredibly proud of the agents in the Yuma Sector, and the work they do every day, much of which he added goes unnoticed.
Yuma Sector agents have made over 80 rescues so far this fiscal year, which ends in October.
“Border Patrol agents still rush to save and rescue people every day who are often abandoned by human smugglers,” Porvaznik said. “And they often do that at risk to their own lives.”
Just two weeks ago, agents rescued a Guatemalan mother and her infant child who could not climb out of a canal due to the swift currents. Then last week, agents rescued 13 illegal entrants who got lost in the desert, including two Mexican nationals who claimed to be minors in hopes they would be released into the country.