Illegal Migrants Surge through the ‘Yuma Gap’

$2 billion wasted on ‘pause’ in border fence construction could provide body armor to three million Ukrainians

By Andrew R. Arthur on March 1, 2022

In recent posts, I have described the unfolding Southwest border disaster in the place that has seen the largest increase in illegal migrant apprehensions: Border Patrol’s Yuma, Ariz., sector. Apprehensions have surged 2,400 percent of late from last year, while drug seizures have fallen more than 57 percent. As I have said, if you want to know, you’ve got to go, so I headed to the Arizona desert and brought back four pictures that sum up the border disaster and the Biden administration’s response.

Yuma in Context. This was my second trip to Yuma in three years. As I explained in earlier reporting from there, unlike in much of the Southwest border, agents in the Yuma sector (which sits across the Sonoran Desert from Mexico to the south in most places, and the Colorado River to the west) are reinforced by significant infrastructure, including fencing in most spots.

That fencing had allowed Border Patrol to gain operational control of the border there, a fact lauded by then-DHS Secretary Elaine Duke in August 2017. Where drugs and migrants had poured into the United States there in the first decade of the millennium, things were calm by January 2019.

Of course, the Trump administration was not just using “walls” to secure the border; its initiatives also helped keep Yuma under control. Candidate Joe Biden asserted, however, that: “Building a wall will do little to deter criminals and cartels seeking to exploit our borders.” As president, he set out to prove it.

He did that by reversing the immigration and border policies the Trump administration implemented to deter illegal migration (successfully), but there was once a time that Biden understood that policies and infrastructure were both necessary elements of a successful border strategy.

For example, during a speech in South Carolina in 2006, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) explained:

Folks, I voted for a fence, I voted, unlike most Democrats — and some of you won’t like it — I voted for 700 miles of fence. ... But, let me tell you, we can build a fence 40 stories high – unless you change the dynamic in Mexico and — and you will not like this, and — punish American employers who knowingly violate the law when, in fact, they hire illegals. Unless you do those two things, all the rest is window dressing.

Those were simpler times when most illegal migrants were from Mexico. Things are different, and more than 22,000 of the illegal migrants apprehended in the Yuma sector in January (93.7 percent of the total) weren’t Mexican nationals. Thus, shifting the “dynamic” in Mexico is not the only change that is required to bring illegal migration under control.

For what it’s worth, more than 90 percent of the illegal migrants apprehended in the Yuma sector in January weren’t from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, either — they were “long-distance migrants” from countries with their own “dynamics”.

The Biden administration’s only coherent response to the chaos at the border is its “root causes of illegal migration” strategy — which focuses solely on crime, poverty, and corruption in those Northern Triangle countries. The president has no strategy to deal with “root causes” in say, from Venezuela, home to 41 percent of all illegal migrants apprehended in Yuma in January.

As for “punishing American employers who knowingly violate the law”, the Biden administration also has no plan to make E-Verify — an internet-based system for verifying the employment eligibility of new hires in the United Statesmandatory. But you can’t “punish” employers you don’t know are violating the law, and Biden has largely shut down worksite enforcement, too.

The Yuma Gap. As explained above, there is fencing along the border in most of the Yuma sector — but not all. The uncompleted sections of fence directly adjacent to the Morelos Dam (which was built in 1950 across the Colorado River) are called the “Yuma gap”, and I was told that it’s the most heavily traveled area for illegal migrants into the sector.

The Mexican side of the gap, in the city of Los Algodones, is bustling; the American side is mostly open farmland. I had to drive more than a mile over an unpaved levee road just to get there, and this is what I saw:

There was nothing between me and Mexico except a small stream, an embankment, a couple of chairs and a stack of water bottles, and some discarded clothing. Although I passed a Border Patrol vehicle on the road, no agents were at the gap when I arrived.

That was a surprise, as BorderReport recently revealed that 6,000 illegal migrants crossed through the gap per week in December, and “after crossing the border, migrants would literally stand around on a levee waiting to be picked up by Border Patrol agents so they could ask for political asylum.”

That is consistent with what I was told is still occurring. Worse, I heard that if Border Patrol failed to show up to apprehend crossers, the migrants would go to Border Patrol for pick up — some after getting a meal and a shower in Yuma. Why? They wanted CBP paperwork that would then allow them to travel through the United States, thanks to the president’s permissive border policies.

Keep in mind that it is not like it would be impossible for the Biden administration to close this hole in the fence. Which brings me to the second picture:

That is across a separate gap in the fence, about one-tenth of a mile down the levee road. Off to the left, you can see the construction site where materials are being stored to close the hole in the fence.

Biden promised to halt border wall construction if he were elected ("There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1,"), and this is one promise that he kept.

On January 20 — the day he took office — Biden issued a proclamation directing the Department of Defense (which had participated in fence building) and DHS to "pause work on each construction project on the southern border wall, to the extent permitted by law, as soon as possible but in no case later than seven days from the date of this proclamation."

That “pause” has cost American taxpayers up to $2 billion as my colleague Rob Law has explained, and although DHS promised that it would close “small gaps” in the border fence in December, by the middle of February there were still several “small gaps” through which hundreds of migrants were passing per day at the Morelos Dam, near where fencing materials sat in the Sonoran sun.

On a topical note, $2 billion would buy more than three million sets of body armor (top-of-the-line stuff, FRPCTM Fast Response Plate Carriers and SA3U™ Level III UHMWPE SAPI plates, at a cost of $660.33 per unit), for Ukrainian troops fighting off Russian soldiers. Instead, it buys holes in the border fence, most notably in Yuma.

Border Patrol Keeps Illegal Migrants Hidden. If you are apprehending more than 20,000 illegal migrants a month (as Border Patrol is in Yuma), you will need a place to process them. In Yuma, that is the Border Patrol sector headquarters, but good luck actually seeing that operation.

Consistent with the Biden administration’s lack of transparency at the border, those aliens are being hidden behind tall walls and chain-link fences at sector headquarters, on South Avenue A in Yuma.

Now, I would expect that sector headquarters would be protected by walls (there is a lot of expensive equipment there), but in Yuma, someone has taken the extra step of putting “No Parking” signs along the broad shoulder of dusty West 40th Street directly to the north.

To even see the soft-sided tents where migrant processing is going on, you must drive down an unpaved road past the Yuma Swap Meet Flea Market (which was not open on the Wednesday evening I was there), past some interesting people. That brings you up to the back side of the sector parking lot, where I took this picture:

Those white temporary structures toward the setting sun are where the processing happens. What exactly is going on there is anyone’s guess, but several people I spoke to in Yuma told me that most migrants Border Patrol apprehends are simply released on their way into the United States.

Local Costs of Border Non-Enforcement. Such releases simply encourage more illegal migrants to enter illegally, which imposes its own costs on taxpayers. Those costs fall on communities across the United States in terms of additional fiscal spending for schools and public services, and in social welfare spending, as well.

Border communities, however, bear the first and biggest brunt when it comes to increased costs and strains on services. Yuma is a surprisingly large city (with a population exceeding 100,000, and many part-time visitors), and thus is better positioned than, say, the small border town of Del Rio, Texas (population 35,622, which has also seen a migrant surge under Biden), to deal with the problem.

Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls declared a local emergency on December 9, “due to the unprecedented numbers of migrants entering the city prior to being processed and released by Border Patrol”, which had created “a humanitarian and border crisis”. He called on the federal government and state authorities for help.

His crisis declaration explained that the surge of migrants into the area had strained “the ability of medical staff and local hospital resources to provide essential and necessary medical care” to the city’s residents and to the migrants themselves.

Border Patrol, apparently attempting to avoid another “Del Rio” calamity like the one seen in that town in September, surged more agents to Yuma in response to Nicholls’ declaration. Nicholls also worked with CBP to ensure that agents had sufficient resources to deal with the flow (hence the temporary structure behind the chain-link fence).

Migrants still show up injured, however, and I was told that many pregnant migrant women cross the border near term. They end up at the local hospital, the Yuma Regional Medical Center (YRMC).

For the time being, local officials tell me that the hospital can handle the flow, which is not a surprise. The trip across the Morelos Dam is not that dangerous, and many of the crossers in Yuma are “middle-class migrants” who are doing well at home but hope to do better in the United States. They likely did not walk here from Venezuela.

That does not mean, however, that there is not still a strain. That brings me to the fourth picture:

That is a Border Patrol F-150 which can be used for migrant transport in the lot at the YRMC Emergency Department. It likely was not the first such vehicle in that lot that day, and definitely will not be the last.

The Pictures I Did Not Take. There are two pictures that I did not take during my trip.

The first is of large numbers of state police vehicles, similar to the ones I saw continually during my August trip to Texas. There were no Arizona State Patrol ones at the border in Yuma. Unlike Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R), who has surged state assets to the Rio Grande to stop drugs and illegal migrants from flooding into his state, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) has taken a largely hands-off approach.

Ducey did send public safety resources to the area (including National Guard personnel and air and ground resources) in December when Nicholls declared his emergency, but they have seemingly been pulled out since. There were local cops on the streets and highways, but no more than I was used to seeing anywhere else.

Which brings me to the second picture that I did not take: The Border Patrol checkpoint on I-8 on the outskirts of town, heading east to Phoenix and Tucson. I have been stopped there many times in the past, but at 8:00 AM on February 17, it was closed.

There are too few agents to stop migrants and smugglers from crossing through the large gap in the border wall at Yuma, few if any state authorities there to take up the slack, and no checkpoint to stop their movement into the interior. The Sinaloa cartel, which controls the other side of the border, could not have planned it better.