Amid a spike in large groups of immigrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, agents on Wednesday encountered 197 noncitizens in southern Arizona, including 147 unaccompanied children, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
The agency said in a press release that border patrol officials encountered the large group near San Miguel early Wednesday morning and later transported members to Tucson for processing.
Most of the children in the group were found to have come from Guatemala, CBP said.
Two days earlier, agents encountered a group of 48 illegal immigrants near Sasabe, Arizona. That group included 39 children, with 27 of them from Guatemala, according to the agency.
Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are collectively known as the Northern Triangle countries, a region beset by challenges like poverty, violence, and corruption—factors that experts commonly point to as “root causes” prompting people to flee their homes.
So far this fiscal year, by the end of June, border patrol agents have encountered more than 13,600 unaccompanied children after illegally crossing the border—a 189-percent increase over last year, CBP said.
It comes amid a rise in border patrol encounters of large groups of illegal immigrants, with agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas over the past weekend reporting apprehending the biggest single group of noncitizens who crossed the border illegally so far this fiscal year.
Agents with the Rio Grande City station on July 17 encountered a group of 298 people walking north along a ranch road near La Grulla, according to a CBP statement released on July 19. The agency noted that this was the largest single group so far this fiscal year.
Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings on July 20 shared photos of one of the encounters on Twitter, along with the message that a total of more than 15,000 illegal immigrants were taken into custody in the Rio Grande Valley sector in one week.
SPIKE IN LARGE GROUPS- RGV #USBP Agents encounter the largest group this fiscal year.
298 migrants in a single group illegally entered through La Grulla, Texas.
— Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings (@USBPChiefRGV) July 20, 2021
Hastings wrote in a follow-up tweet that, while agents’ attention was distracted by the large groups, a smuggler fled the scene, leaving 11 people in a moving vehicle.
“Human smugglers always have and always will place profit over human lives,” Hastings added, sharing a photo of the pickup truck, which appeared to be stuck in bushes after running off the road.
Also, agents in the Yuma sector in Arizona encountered several large groups of illegal immigrants this past weekend, with Yuma Sector Chief Patrol Agent Chris Clem announcing on Twitter that over 8,000 people have been apprehended in the sector so far this month.
“Since FY21, Yuma Sector has apprehended 68,008 migrants, a 854 percent increase from the 7,129 total migrants apprehended during the same time last year,” Clem wrote.
Meanwhile, a recent analysis by Steven Kopits, head of Princeton Policy Advisors think tank, projected that immigration officials could encounter nearly 1.7 million people seeking to enter the United States illegally by the end of 2021, with Kopits blaming the Biden administration’s “open border” policies.
The analysis came after federal immigration officials announced that they had apprehended 188,829 people illegally crossing the southwest border in June, up from 180,034 in May. The figure includes more than 15,000 unaccompanied minors, over 55,000 family units, and over 117,000 single adults.
Since taking office, President Joe Biden has reversed a number of border and asylum policies implemented by the Trump administration, including overturning the Migrant Protection Protocols, which required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their claims were processed. Biden has also proposed an immigration bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Republicans and some analysts have blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump-era policies for fueling the border surge, arguing that stricter rules around border security and asylum admissions serve to deter would-be illegal immigrants from trying to enter the United States.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.