NOGALES, ARIZ.– – The U.S.-Mexico border remains closed because of the pandemic, but hundreds of migrants are still heading north and it’s leaving several communities, including Nogales, Ariz., on edge.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle for Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and an uphill battle for all our border communities from San Diego all the way to Brownsville,” said Mayor Arturo Garino.
Garino says he hasn’t seen too many migrants or illegal crossings in his town so far but is expecting traffic to pick up soon as it has across the Southwest, especially in Texas and California. He’s worried it may have negative impacts on COVID-19 cases.
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“I think this administration has opened up the doors for everybody to come and … I’m expecting for it to happen,” said the mayor. “Of course it worries me, it worries me more in the health and safety of the residents of Nogales and the state of Arizona.”
Closed borders and a global pandemic are taking a toll on his town and forcing many businesses to close. Now that President Biden is in office, he wants to see some changes, starting with removing all the barbed wire around the wall and reopening the borders, but with strict COVID-19 precautions in place. Overall, he’s optimistic to see what the Biden administration will bring.
“I hope that they really take it into consideration removing this concertina wire, there’s no need for it, there’s no need for concertina wire on our wall here with Mexico, and there’s no need for concertina wire on the Capitol around Washington. That is for military purposes, that’s for a battlefield, not for an area like this,” he said.
The prospects of changing U.S. immigration laws and escaping violence in Central America are encouraging many people to try and cross. U.S. Customs and Border Protection numbers already show encounters have been almost double these past few months compared with the same time last year. Cochise County rancher John Ladd is seeing it first hand.
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“We actually had some law and order on the border during Trump’s administration, there is no law on the border right now,” said Ladd.
The border wall runs for 10.5 miles along his ranch, he says, and during the Trump administration, he saw about 20 people a month illegally cross onto his land. But since Biden took office, he sees dozens.
“On Sunday they caught 100 in a five-mile area on our ranch. Yesterday I knew we had four groups, today I know we got two groups going on right now. It’s around the clock every day and night and they’re coming again,” said Ladd. “You don’t realize how luxurious it is to get eight hours of sleep without being woke up in the middle of the night with somebody coming around your house.”
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Ladd says construction of the border wall is complete on his land, but there are gaps nearby. Other safety measures like security lighting and flood gates are currently on hold. For now all he can do is report any illegal activity to the sheriff’s office or Border Patrol.