Border woes: Arizona port of entry closed amid migrant surge

A border crossing along the U.S.-Mexico Border has been closed as a result of a recent surge in migrants.

Officials with Customs and Border Protection announced on Dec. 1 their decision to temporarily suspend operations at the Lukeville Port of Entry, in order to "redirect personnel to assist the U.S. Border Patrol with taking migrants into custody."

The decision took effect on Dec. 4.

"Both northbound and southbound pedestrian and vehicle traffic at Lukeville Port of Entry will be suspended until further notice. Travelers can cross into or out of the United States through either the Nogales Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona or the San Luis Port of Entry in San Luis, Arizona," read a portion of the statement.

On the day the closure took effect, reporter Danielle Miller was at the border crossing, where she saw a group of people who appeared to be migrants gathering at the crossing.

After the migrants were taken away from the area, the area was nearly devoid of people, as travelers avoided the area because of the closure. The border crossing's closure also prompted some businesses on the U.S. side of the border to close.

Most of the migrants are walking into the U.S. through gaps in the wall and surrendering at official border crossings to seek asylum. Officials say the desert crossing has become a major migration route in recent months when smugglers are dropping off migrants.

Reporter Justin Lum visited the border wall in Lukeville Monday afternoon where around a thousand migrants were in line to be processed.

He spoke with migrants from different countries. Some have been there for days waiting to be transported to the collection center not too far away.

The sections of lines go down about the length of a football field.

Once these migrants are transported and taken into custody, the next step is processing at either the Ajo or Yuma stations before going to Tucson, and by plane or bus, sent to another sector to be detained to seek asylum.

More single adults were seen, many of them men, waiting in line.

Vulnerable people, being families of women and children, take priority as they're in the front waiting to be transported.

Emmanuel from Nigeria, who has been in Lukeville for three days or so, says he traveled through eleven countries to get there.

"I don’t know if I will survive this night again. It’s so cold and there’s no food, no water. Water, you have to wait if there’s shelter or tents. And food, some humanitarian governments are passing some apples out. It will help. You don’t understand, staying out four days, five days without water," he said.

FOX 10 crews have seen migrants collect firewood because of how cold it gets at night. They've seen them share crackers and other snacks.

They also saw them cheering when the line moved as they got closer.

Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs did speak to the press about the border situation on Monday, specifically Lukeville, saying she was not sending state resources and the federal government needs to step up.

"It's really cold and the only thing I've had to eat today is this," said Dennis Camacho Suarez, showing a granola bar wrapper. He's a migrant from Ecuador.

He says the violence in his country is bad.

"A lot of deaths every day. A lot of my friends have died," he said.

A spokesperson for CBP says initial screenings of those seeking asylum will weed out illegitimate claims. Persecution or torture in a migrant's country is the threshold to continue with the asylum-seeking process.

Longer drive to Rocky Point as a result of closure

The Lukeville Port of Entry sits on Highway 85, which begins in the Buckeye area. The highway turns into Federal Highway 8 after entering Mexican territory, which ends in Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point. The two Ports of Entry CBP officials mentioned in their statement are both over 100 miles away from Lukeville, in opposite directions.

While there is an airport in Rocky Point, the airport does not have flights to any American airports.

We first reported on problems at the port of entry on Nov. 27. At the time, CBP officials said they were temporarily reducing vehicle processing in Lukeville, due to "increased levels of migrant encounters at the Southwest Border, fueled by smugglers peddling disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals and encourage migration."

People affected by closure speak out

"I think it will be a big impact. They are going to lose 90% of their guests who are going to come down there Monday," said Tom Thomas. He operates 14 Rocky Point vacation rentals.

He says they remain busy year-long.

"We had five emails yesterday from people saying we need to cancel, because, ‘How are we going to get there?’" Thomas said.

The Nogales or San Luis ports will be open, but those will add 150 or 200 miles to your Rocky Point trip.

"It’s really going to put a damper on it because the time to travel and the expense to travel for fuel is a lot," he said.

It’s also a lot for businesses in southern Arizona.

The Why Not Travel Store, located just outside Lukeville, sees hundreds of customers leaving or coming into Mexico.

Chris Rojo, an employee, who was nervously awaiting the Monday closure.

"Our shifts might get cut, our hours, so that’s money. Money for us, and money for the store, because without the port of entry, that’s a lot of money that we are missing out on," Rojo said.

Impact on the Nogales port of entry

Businesses are keeping a close eye on the flow of goods at the Arizona border as a slowdown or disruption would be costly.

The Mariposa port of entry in Nogales processes 600,000 commercial vehicles annually, which equates to $30 billion in imports into the U.S. and $11 billion in exports into Mexico.

"Today it took an hour, but before it was just a few minutes," Teresa Valdez said on Monday.

Valdez lives in Nogales, Sonora. She joined many shoppers in a festively decorated downtown Nogales in Mexico.

She says Monday morning, it took her an hour to cross into Nogales, Arizona, which is the average time according to the CBP website.

For most of the day, both cars and pedestrians crossed into Arizona from the Nogales border with little to no delay.

Politicians react

The announcement of the Lukeville closure is opening the floor to criticism among Democrats and Republicans alike.

State Republican lawmaker TJ Shope urged Governor Katie Hobbs to send down the National Guard for assistance.

The governor, in a joint statement with senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, called the move an "unacceptable outcome that further destabilizes our border, risks the safety of our communities, and damages our economy."

Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes, who is also with the Arizona Sheriff’s Association, also criticized the plan.

"It’s a sign of defeat. They are unable to provide all of the services that they are bound to provide. They are defeated," Rhodes said.

As for Thomas, he says these decisions have very real consequences.

"I’m just concerned about why they are doing this and why now. Is it political? More Trump versus Biden? I’m just not sure," he said.