Northbound traffic at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry appeared to be moving as normal on Black Friday after a rush of migrants hoping to request U.S. asylum at the port’s vehicle lanes – some arriving on foot, others in cars – caused delays earlier in the week for travelers trying to enter the United States.
On Friday morning, shipping containers that had been used to block access to multiple inspection booths had been moved into a single lane, and passenger vehicles progressed slowly but steadily through the port’s other seven lanes.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a news release Wednesday afternoon reporting that some lanes at the DeConcini and Mariposa ports in Nogales had been closed the day before as a result of a “significant increase of asylum-seekers using vehicle lanes to circumvent the immigration process.” The closures, which CBP enforced with shipping containers and officers positioned at the entrances of the lanes, remained in effect at least through Wednesday evening and resulted in wait times of up to three hours, according to Sonoran media.
CBP officials were not available Friday to provide further details about the events that led to the lane closures. However, Nadir Fernandez, local representative for the National Migration Institute in Nogales, Sonora, confirmed that some migrants had attempted to rush through the vehicle traffic by foot, while others had traveled in cars through the northbound vehicle lanes in order to give themselves up upon reaching the port.
“Several migrants got together to buy a car, then they formed in line with the rest of the traffic,” Fernandez told the NI on Friday. “When it was their turn (to enter the port), they’d drive a bit further, not to attack the officers, but with the intention of reaching American territory to claim asylum before the other migrants in line.”
Fernandez said he didn’t know how many people tried to claim asylum through the vehicle lanes or how many cars were used as a part of the most recent tactic. But the Hermosillo-based newspaper El Imparcial, citing a local police official, reported Friday afternoon that a total of 76 migrants had tried to cross illegally through the vehicle lanes the previous weekend after buying cars that had been imported from the United States, but not fully legalized in Mexico.
In response, authorities in both countries increased security at the ports.
“(CBP officials) became alert and set up containers (in the vehicle lanes) and told us that they needed us to fix the situation from our end,” Fernandez said.
He added that municipal, state and federal police, along with the Mexican National Guard, have been supervising the northbound vehicle traffic since then, asking suspicious travelers for identification while they wait in line to cross into the United States.
Asylum-seekers, primarily from Latin American countries, have gathered on the Nogales, Sonora side of the DeConcini port since early 2018, most of them patiently waiting their turn to be let in by CBP officers in order to formally request asylum in the United States.
Several Cuban migrants waiting outside Mexico’s National Migration Institute near the port on Friday said they had heard about the recent vehicle lane incidents from a municipal police commander, who briefed them on the situation.
The Cubans – seven individuals who traveled alone or with their spouses to the U.S. border, and who have been waiting nearly three months for their turn to make a U.S. asylum claim – said the brash tactics being employed by others only increases their frustration.
“It affects all of us because it paralyzes the process for the rest of us,” said a 45-year-old asylum-seeker who did not wish to provide his name for fear of retaliation from other migrants. “If 15 or 20 people enter through the vehicle lanes, then they make those of us waiting in line wait even longer.”
The man said that people are resorting to such tactics as they become increasingly concerned over the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP – a measure that sends asylum-seekers back to Mexico to wait out their claims, but that has not yet been implemented in Nogales.
(Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said it would begin busing asylum-seekers from Tucson to Texas so they could be sent back to Mexico under MPP – a response to a recent uptick in the number of migrants arriving to the area.)
All seven of the Cubans interviewed Friday said they traveled to Nogales, Sonora after learning that the MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” hadn’t been implemented yet. But as their turn in line drags on longer than the 45 days they initially expected, they said that they, too, are becoming more concerned that the policy will also be implemented in the local area, eventually forcing them to return to the insecure environment in Nogales, Sonora.
Aaron Infante, an 18-year-old from Venezuela who has also been waiting for nearly three months for his turn at an asylum claim, shared the same concern.
“This isn’t a safe place to live – there’s a lot of mafia and I’m scared for my mother’s safety and my own,” Infante said. “When one hears that (President Trump) might implement this policy here, well, that makes people desperate and some opt for doing it illegally.”
But asked if they’ve considered bypassing the asylum-seekers’ wait list and entering the United States illegally through the desert or vehicle ports, Infante and the seven Cuban migrants gave the same response: No, they want to do it legally.
In its news release issued Wednesday, CBP said that it understands the impact that additional enforcement measures at the ports can have during the holiday season, but added that “the reduction of lanes and/or reallocation of officers for security measures may be necessary” if the vehicle lane incursions continue.