YUMA, Ariz. – Although the majority of illegal border crossers caught within Yuma Sector’s area of operations come from Mexico and from Central American countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala, Border Patrol agents have recently seen an uptick in crossers originating from the countries of Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.
While some crossers say they come to the United States looking for work, most claim credible fear, which is a fear of persecution or torture because of one’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Tristen Molina, a special operations supervisor for the Yuma Sector Intelligence Unit’s Targeting and Analysis Section, said many of those from Uzbekistan claim they are attempting to escape persecution for sexual orientation and preference, which can be punishable there with up to three years in prison. Those from Bangladesh are, for the most part, escaping persecution for their political beliefs, which oppose those of their government leaders, he said.
Border Patrol intelligence agents conduct interviews of these illegal border crossers to collect as much as information as possible as to why they are crossing into the United States and to determine and confirm their identities. If the illegal border crossers do not speak English or Spanish, which often is the case with those who come from counties other than Mexico, agents use a telephonic translation service.
“The number one mission of the Border Patrol is to keep terrorists out,” Molina said, adding that interviews are critical in identifying the crossers and their intentions. Agents also gather information on their intended final destination.
“(We) don’t know why they pick Yuma,” said Oscar Joanicot, supervisory border patrol agent for the Yuma Sector Intelligence Unit.
Joanicot said most illegal border crossers are told or directed where to go by smugglers and typically have no vested interest in Yuma or the immediate surrounding area. He said the illegal border crossers usually have arrangements made to meet up with other family members who are already in this country or they have work lined up somewhere.
“They have family here; they know somebody here [in the United States],” he said.
After processing illegal border crossers accordingly, those who claim asylum are turned over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, where they are either released into the U.S. with a monitoring system or remain in ICE custody while they wait to see an immigration judge to plead their case.
In addition to the Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Bangladesh, illegal border crossers in the last calendar year have also come from as far as China, Nepal, Ghana, Russia and India.
Joanicot, who has been a Border Patrol agent for 17 years, said it is common for there to be a shift in nationalities encountered on the border from year to year.
“The constant flow of immigrants from Mexico has always been steady; however, the change from different countries seems to change in waves,” he said. “This change can be attributed to the different push-pull factors for those nationalities. Some of those factors may include political unrest, economical unrest or war. Depending on what is happening in a particular country at any given time can contribute to an influx of illegal immigrants to the United States.
“Some of these illegal immigrants are simply seeking a better life but some are leaving their home countries to avoid some sort of hardship,” Joanicot continued. “Whether it be from Central America, South America, Asia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East, I believe the main reason is simply that they believe they are better off in the United States than in their home country.”