NOGALES, Sonora – Lane closures, resulting in lengthier wait times to cross into the United States, have returned indefinitely to the ports of entry along the Arizona-Mexico border as asylum-seeking migrants are increasingly attempting to cross through car lanes at the ports.
Wait times to cross at one port of entry along the border dividing Arizona and Mexico increased to as much as 11 hours over the weekend, according to some drivers, because the lane closures coincided with Thanksgiving, already a busy time at the border crossings.
Customs and Border Protection officials in Arizona said they reduced lanes at three ports over the past week: the DeConcini and Mariposa ports in Nogales and at the Raul Castro port in Douglas.
The agency reported several instances of frustrated migrants attempting to run through the car lanes rather than continuing to wait for months in Mexico until their numbers are called to be processed for their asylum screening.
"In recent days, there has been an increase of incursions through vehicle lanes at Arizona ports of entry by asylum seekers attempting to evade established entry processes. These tactics interfere with CBP officers conducting their responsibilities and exacerbates wait times for daily commuters," Custom and Border Protection said Monday in a written statement.
Customs officers installed metal containers to block three lanes at the DeConcini crossing, as well as two lanes at Mariposa and three in Douglas. The containers initially went up for a few weeks around Thanksgiving last year, when soldiers began installing barbed wire to deter migrants arriving to Nogales from rushing the border.
The Mexican government, at the request of U.S. officials, also boosted their police presence on the Mexican side of the border crossings. On Monday, several municipal and federal police officers were standing guard along the vehicle lanes at DeConcini, as the lines stretched far past their typical lengths.
Police officers on-site said they'd been assigned to the port more than a week ago and that they would likely remain in place until further notice to discourage any further attempts to rush the border crossings.
Migrants losing 'trust in presenting at the ports'
However, Joanna Williams from the Kino Border Initiative, a binational group that provides aid to migrants, said the migrants' actions were driven by desperation. Many of them grow restless as they are forced to wait at least three months in challenging conditions, which this time of year include temperatures dropping into the 30s.
"There's been multiple days ... in which no one's been processed off of the list, or only single adults and not families, and so what I think that is doing, just the worsening waits, is making people lose trust in presenting at the ports altogether," Williams said.
She added that she believes many migrants are afraid that they'll be sent to wait for their asylum proceedings in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, under the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols, more commonly known as "Remain in Mexico."
The policy expanded to the Arizona border less than two weeks ago. Under the expansion, some migrants apprehended or processed in Nogales and Douglas will be bused three hours away to El Paso, Texas, and sent back to wait in even more challenging conditions in Mexico.
Program expansion: 'Remain in Mexico' program expanding to Arizona border
For some, waits as long as 11 hours
Customs and Border Protection said the lane closures "will remain indefinitely" in Nogales and Douglas. That has caused longer waits than normal for vehicle passengers, many of whom cross the border on a regular basis for work, shopping or to visit family.
On Monday evening, the lines to cross back into the U.S. were filled with families from Arizona who had spent the Thanksgiving weekend in Mexico and were now stuck in long lines waiting to get back home.
Casandra Barcenas drove to Nogales, Sonora, from her home in Tucson, Arizona, to attend a funeral over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, as she attempted to cross back to the U.S. side, she was forced to wait for nearly 11 hours at the DeConcini crossing, she said. She got in line starting at 7:30 p.m. and was finally able to cross just after 6 a.m. Sunday.
"I know there's more people because of Thanksgiving. I don't know if maybe they just need more people ... but it's a very long time to wait," Barcenas said.
Despite her ordeal over the weekend, she had to cross back to the Mexican side again. And on Monday evening, she once again was waiting in line heading back to Tucson. This time around, she left earlier and had to wait only three hours before reaching the front of the line, she said.
Even though the lane closures resulted in longer wait times, Barcenas said she trusted that U.S. officials were acting in good faith.
"They have to do what they have to do for security on that side, I imagine. But they have to have a reason to do it," she said.
Farther back in line Monday evening, Michel Garcia had been waiting for three hours to cross into Arizona drive home to Phoenix.
He and his wife drove to Nogales, Sonora, to check on their other home there. They were expecting longer wait times because of Thanksgiving. But he said that waiting up to six hours to cross back on Sunday was far longer than he expected.
"On Sunday, we saw the line and it was too long, so we decided we weren't going to leave on Sunday but rather today. But it's the same thing, it's still long and moving slowly," Garcia said Monday evening.
Garcia said he had heard about migrants attempting to cross through the car lanes, and even noticed the metal containers when he first crossed to the Mexican side. He was a bit frustrated with the closures, but said he was also not too surprised.
"It impacts us, but supposedly the United States has officers at the crossing, doing inspections and all that," he said. "It impacts us because everything is slower with only two lanes. But honestly, sometimes they don't even open them anyway. There's usually one, two or three closed."
Follow Rafael Carranza on Twitter: @RafaelCarranza.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: US-Mexico border: Delays, reduced lanes at Arizona ports of entry