Border County Declares a State of Emergency

And then things in Yuma got worse, while Biden’s border policies start to lose key supporters

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 23, 2022

Yuma County, Ariz., declared a state of emergency last week, in part based on health grounds and in part due to what the emergency declaration described as “the increasing number of asylum seekers and migrants entering Yuma County from Mexico”. And then, things got worse, as Mayor Doug Nicholls announced this week that migrants will be released on the streets in the community for the first time since 2020. What’s more, Biden’s always-bad border policies are now losing key supporters on the left, too.

Yuma Sector. There are nine Border Patrol sectors along the Southwest border, from the Rio Grande Valley sector on the Gulf of Mexico west to the San Diego sector on the Pacific.

The Yuma sector runs from the Yuma-Pima County line in Arizona (in the east) to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California (to the west), and all told, the fewer than 800 agents there have jurisdiction over 126 miles of border, running along the Colorado River and through the Sonoran Desert.

Things are bad everywhere along the Southwest border, but they are particularly dire in Yuma sector. As agents across the border saw apprehensions increase more than fivefold between FY 2020 and FY 2022 (from just over 400,000 to more than 2.2 million), apprehensions in Yuma sector last fiscal year ran at a rate 34 times what they had been in FY 2020 (from just over 8,800 to nearly 311,000).

Yuma sector is a microcosm of the Biden administration’s border failures in more ways than one. Thanks to border fencing that runs along nearly the whole of the sector—authorized by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 that then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) voted for—things became so quiet in Yuma that then-acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke crowed about it in 2017:

Although there is still work to do, the border in Yuma sector today is more secure because of this investment. Even under lax enforcement standards, apprehensions in fiscal year 2016 were roughly a 10th of what they were in FY 2005 — and are on track to be even lower this year. Crime has significantly decreased in the Yuma area, and smugglers now look for other less difficult areas of the border to cross — often areas without fencing.

Duke would have been wise to take the counsel of Abraham Lincoln, who noted, “The hen is the wisest of all the animal creation, because she never cackles until the egg is laid.”

Biden Bears the Blame. Speaking of, Biden laid an egg when he quickly reversed border policies implemented by Donald Trump that had brought a modicum of operational security to the Southwest border, and then—in a break with every prior president—abandoned even the pretext (let alone policy) of deterring foreign nationals from entering the United States illegally.

There are two main deterrents to entering the United States illegally: (1) Detention, which Congress has mandated in the case of all illegal migrants stopped at the border; and (2) prosecution for “entry at an improper time or place”.

Prosecutions of migrants for illegal entry have plummeted under the Biden administration, and as for detention, Biden has actually requested that Congress fund about 20 percent fewer detention beds in FY 2023 than DHS received last year, even as illegal entries have soared.

My colleague Mark Krikorian has explained that the president and his advisors have rejected “the very idea of deterring illegal immigration” because:

[T]hey believe immigration controls are morally wrong — period. They believe that the American people simply have no right to keep anyone out. And if the immigration law requires them to do that — as it obviously does — they’ll do their best to circumvent and ignore the law.

In other words, the Biden administration sees the Immigration and Nationality Act as the equivalent of Jim Crow, and undermining it is the heroic equivalent of escorting black students into desegregated schools.

In any event, the administration’s rescission of Trump’s border policies and rejection of deterrence as a border strategy are the reasons why Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border have set new yearly records for apprehensions in both FY 2021 and in FY 2022.

Why Yuma? So, why did apprehensions soar 3,300 percent in Yuma between FY 2020 and FY 2022, as apprehensions across the board at the Southwest border jumped “only” about 450 percent? Several reasons.

First, the border fence in that sector was not yet fully completed when Joe Biden took office, and one of his first acts as president was to “pause” all border infrastructure work—including fencing.

One key unfinished element of the Yuma sector fencing system was a series of gaps along the Colorado River directly adjacent to the border, in a place the border river is intersected by the Morelos Dam—known collectively as the “Yuma Gap”.

Transit across the dam is relatively easy, and in February, when I went to Yuma and visited the gap, it was reported that 1,000 migrants per day were entering illegally through those unfinished portions of the border fence.

How easy is it to cross through the Yuma Gap? One Republican senator who visited in June reported that he saw a migrant wearing a high-end Versace dress and was told that so many migrants arrive with loads of luggage that Border Patrol had to set a weight limit on the amount they can bring on vehicles taking them to processing.

Second, Yuma’s safe. On December 20, a local news outlet quoted “Eduardo”, from Lima, Peru, who explained why he was crossing into Yuma: “I saw on the comments on the news, where the safest place to cross was. I found Mexicali and decided to cross from there because it is calm and not too dangerous.”

That, and the ease of flying into Mexico City, transiting to Mexicali (as Eduardo did), and then travelling an hour to Yuma is likely the reason why migrants from 115 countries around the world have headed to that city in the southwestern corner of Arizona this year alone.

That said, the traffic has taken its toll on Yuma. There’s only one regional hospital in Yuma, and it was already straining under the weight of the migrant flow, even before what the Yuma County emergency declaration describes as the “’triple threat’ of COVID-19, Respiratory Syncytial Virus and the flu” hit the area.

Mayor Nicholls complained In October that the city had “$20 million of unreimbursed expenses dealing directly with the healthcare for migrants as they’re coming through — and that in just in the last six months”.

Post-Title 42. So why is Border Patrol dropping migrants off in the streets of Yuma now?

CDC orders directing the expulsion of illegal entrants, issued pursuant to Title 42 of the U.S. Code beginning in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, were the only quasi-border policy implemented during the Trump administration that Biden saw fit to keep.

For that reason, “Title 42” has played an oversized role in maintaining any semblance of border security.

Those CDC orders—which Biden attempted to end in May before that action was blocked by a federal judge in Louisiana—are set to expire at any time (or not, depending on a lawsuit currently pending before the Supreme Court).

DHS warns that up to 18,000 migrants per day are likely to attempt to enter the United States once Title 42 expires.

Migrants are already massing on the Mexican side of the border waiting for that to happen, and many have jumped the gun and headed to Yuma. There are so many there that the local press has reported entrants have been lighting fires to stay warm while waiting “hours” for agents to pick them up.

Newcomers may be waiting a while. According to Mayor Nicholls: “Right now, the Yuma sector has more people in custody than any of the other sectors.”

Yuma should not have to bear the brunt—but then no border city should, either.

“This Is Wrong”. William Galston, resident liberal on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, wrote an op-ed this week in which he stated: “If the termination of Title 42 occurs, the moment of truth will have arrived, and the administration will be forced to take steps that progressives won’t like.”

Galston explained many of the migrants who will seek to enter post-Title 42 “would qualify for a full review of their claims, even though most are migrating for economic reasons and don’t meet the criteria for refugee status”. For what it’s worth, that’s true of most illegal migrants the Biden administration has already let in.

Detaining illegal entrants—as Congress has mandated—would deter would-be migrants with weak or bogus asylum claims from coming. As an added bonus, it would exponentially speed up the process for those who claims of fear are valid.

Biden won’t do that, however, or not until he’s forced to. That could happen sooner than not. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W. Va.) complained this week that, “We have stop the insanity that is going on at the border. This is wrong.” When Biden’s border stance has lost key liberals like William Galston and Joe Manchin, only the “progressives” in his base are left—and they likely won’t be enough to prevent a change.