MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The terrain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, between the U.S. and Mexico, is unforgiving.
The rocky desert can be infested with rattlesnakes, and is dotted with skin-ripping cactus.
Still, the number of people attempting to cross and illegally enter the U.S. keeps increasing.
“We are in a period where there is unprecedented levels of flow impacting our border,” said deputy chief patrol agent Robert Garcia. “We up here in the Tucson sector are over 50 percent in our encounters - and that’s just what we are encountering,”
Local 10 rode with a helicopter patrol with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations (AMO). Within minutes of taking off, agent Evan Shipton received a call from Border Patrol agents on the ground who spotted migrants evading capture. Six were taken into custody.
Last fall, Local 10 News embedded with AMO agents in South Florida, as the number of Cubans arriving by boat was surging.
But numbers from CBP shows a new trend: Cuban nationals crossing by land, though Mexico. According to statistics recently published, federal authorities had more than 32,000 encounters with Cuban migrants at the land border in March, double the number from the month before.
Walter Slosar, chief Border Patrol Agent for the Miami Sector, said Florida is often a destination.
“In the Southwest border, it’s always, ‘We’re going to enter here (and) we’re going to transit out of the area.’ Well, Florida is a destination area,” Slosar said. “Popular for smuggling from the southwest border to come to Florida. We rely heavily on our partners.”
An economic and humanitarian crisis is prompting many Cubans to want to leave. Many recently traveled to Mexico through Nicaragua, which lifted visa restrictions.
The Cuban government isn’t taking back nationals who cross via the land border; Immigrations and Customs Enforcement tells Local 10 News that the communist government has not accepted any deportation flights back to the island since October.
“Whether you’re Cuban or whether you’re Nicaraguan, or Ecuadorian, Mexican, or from any other country on this globe, this is still the most dangerous place to cross,” Garcia said.
Related stories from Local 10 visit to southern border:
Fighting fentanyl at the US border; Local 10 granted exclusive access to law enforcement operations