As the year winds down, so have the number of people detained along the southern border since peaking in April. Arizona 360 traveled to Nogales, Sonora this week and visited the Kino Border Initiative where communications director Katie Sharar offered insight into recent demographical shifts in the migrants and deportees seeking assistance.
“We see a lot fewer Central Americans now. Families from southern Mexico are definitely still arriving, particularly from the state of Guerrero. But what we see more now are folks coming from Cuba and Venezuela,” Sharar said. “There are certainly still families seeking asylum and they’re waiting here at the port of entry somewhere between two and three months.”
At the Kino Border Initiative, staff and volunteers serve breakfast and dinner. Volunteer health professionals also provide basic first aid. Hundreds of people show up for meal services each day, Sharar said.
This week, investigators in Mexico began the process of identifying dozens of remains discovered in a mass grave on the outskirts of Rocky Point. So far authorities have recovered 42 bodies. KJZZ’s Murphy Woodhouse has followed the developments and discussed his reporting with Lorraine Rivera via Skype from the station’s bureau in Hermosillo, Sonora.
During October, cartel-related violence in three Mexican states resulted in dozens of casualties including civilians, police officers and a National Guard soldier. Last month, federal law enforcement attempted to arrest the son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, triggering a counter attack led by Sinaloa cartel members that included blocking routes to the city and taking the families of soldiers hostage. Javier Osorio, an expert in cartel violence at the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy, discussed how the attack could have wider implications for Mexico and the United States.
Along the border and at ports of entry, agencies cracking down on illicit trade include the FBI. The agency is part of 22 task forces and working groups that investigate corruption across the country, including three in Southern Arizona. Special Agent Adam Radtke described the agency’s work and the issue’s prevalence.
“I see a lot of similarities between espionage cases and corruption cases because we’re seeing criminal enterprises, at least in Mexico, start trying to recruit public officials just like intelligence officers from threat countries recruit people to spy,” Radtke said.
When public corruption cases end up in federal court, defense attorney Sean Chapman has experience defending Border Patrol agents on trial. Chapman explained some of the circumstances that can lead to corruption charges.
“What happens quite a bit is that the agents themselves may have grown up in the communities where they’re working,” Chapman said. “What I see happening quite frequently is that maybe some of their relatives are involved in cartel activity and they find themselves getting involved in that way. And somebody that never thought they would do anything like that ends up taking a couple grand to allow a load of drugs to go through the I-19 checkpoint or something like that.”
Once cases make their way to court, Chapman said polarizing views about border issues can make jury selection difficult.
“The community’s really divided. There are a lot of people that think if you’re an agent you can do no wrong and you should be given a medal just for being a law enforcement officer,” Chapman said. “And there are people that want to demonize you because you’re in law enforcement, so it makes it really difficult to find a fair jury in that type of case.”