Yuma law enforcement overwhelmed by illegal immigration: 'Absolute chaos'
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office receives dozens of calls each day, some from immigrants
YUMA, Arizona – Local law enforcement officials describe themselves as overwhelmed after a surge of illegal immigrants passed through one border city.
Last week, more than 6,000 people crossed through Yuma.
Hundreds of illegal immigrants are crossing through a gap in the unfinished border wall in Yuma each day.
The sheriff’s office, the Arizona National Guard and families in Yuma are all concerned about the unprecedented number of people crossing illegally.
"The best way I can describe the border right now is chaos. Absolute chaos," said Maj. Eben Bratcher, operations chief of the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.
"The best way I can describe the border right now is chaos. Absolute chaos."
Col. Matthew Stubbs said the surge of immigrants is the largest he's seen in his career.
"This is going on 24 hours a day," adds Yuma resident Dennis Cook.
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Spike in encounters
Since October of this year, Customs and Border Protection reported close to 22,000 encounters in the Yuma Sector.
That's a 2,647% increase from this time last year.
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office receives dozens of calls each day relating to illegal immigration, some from the immigrants themselves.
"They’re calling 911. They’re showing up and sitting on the border like they’re told, waiting for their ride. After hours and hours and sometimes a day or more goes by, they get frustrated. And they get scared. And they get hungry. And they get thirsty. And they start calling 911."
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Bratcher says staffing is a challenge.
"At any given time, I might have three dispatchers answering all of the calls that come into our office," he said. "If they’re tied up handling 911 calls that wouldn’t be happening otherwise, your 911 call because of a vehicle accident or something other than that more serious might ring a few extra times, and that’s scary."
Cook’s backyard overlooks the unfinished border wall.
He sees the crossings every day and knows just how overwhelmed Border Patrol is.
"There’s times when I've called Border Patrol, and Border Patrol says ‘We can't do anything. We’re totally booked up. We can’t do nothing with them," Cook said. "Since I’ve been on camera here, I'll bet you we've had 20 people cross already."
Yuma’s mayor issued a local emergency, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey deployed the National Guard.
"The problem is just so large. So many are coming through, and that’s why we’re here," Stubbs said.
Pregnant women and young children are making this trip too.
Some of the immigrants explained why they came to the U.S.
"For a better life for my daughter who is about to be born," one immigrant from Brazil said.
An immigrant from Venezuela is looking "for a better quality of life because we can no longer be in our country, and it’s unfortunate what is happening over there. This is what we have to do."
Between Friday and Tuesday, Border Patrol stopped about 2,600 people crossing illegally.
Trump policy restored
Numbers are down significantly from last week, which was around the same time that the Biden administration reinstated the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy following a court ruling.
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Under that Trump-era policy, known officially as the Migrant Protection Protocols, asylum-seekers are required to remain in Mexico until their court dates.
The surge in illegal immigration is also a health issue.
"We have one hospital here, and with people coming across, they’re coming with all sorts of conditions that then fill up our hospital," Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls lamented.
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It’s also affecting the farming industry.
Yuma supplies 90% of the country’s lettuce during winter.
It’s not uncommon for border crossers to make their way through the fields, damaging crops.
Despite the "border crisis," Nicholls says Yuma is safe.
"There’s no hesitation for me living in Yuma with my family," Nicholls said. "It’s just we have a different dynamic we need to make sure we’re staying on top of, and that’s what we’re doing."