ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The remote New Mexico Bootheel region has become a hot spot for smugglers moving large groups of Central Americans to the border, according to Border Patrol officials. The latest group of migrants entered the country near the Antelope Wells border crossing and turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents just after midnight Tuesday, the agency reported.
“The majority of individuals from this group are from Central America, with many in the group immediately claiming the need for medical care,” according to a news release from the El Paso Border Patrol sector, which includes all of New Mexico.
The 247 migrants taken into custody included parents with small children and unaccompanied juveniles. The vast majority of Central Americans arriving are seeking asylum.
A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died in Border Patrol custody in December crossed in the same remote area of the Bootheel with her father as part of another group.
“Unscrupulous organized smugglers are exploiting the area and the proximity to the border to move large groups of people,” the news release says. Migrants are directed where to cross and turn themselves in, with “smugglers never having to cross the border themselves and risk apprehension,” according to the Border Patrol.
Since October, at least 24 large groups of migrants have been “trafficked in the Lordsburg area,” the agency says. The Border Patrol defines groups of more than 100 as large groups.
The Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, which includes all of New Mexico, has had a spike in the number of parents with children from Central America and unaccompanied minors arriving at the border asking for asylum. Through November, Border Patrol apprehended 11,617 family units and 1,873 unaccompanied children, according to the most recent data available from the agency.
“People are taking more risk,”said Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
The organization is among immigrant advocacy groups that say asylum seekers are traveling to remote areas to cross illegally because they are being turned away at official ports of entry. Democratic members of Congress who toured the New Mexico border region after the deaths of the 7-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy from Guatemala in Border Patrol custody expressed the same concern.
According to Customs and Border Protection officials, people are not denied the right to ask for asylum but are asked to return later to make a claim because CBP facilities are not designed to hold large numbers of people.
Instead, asylum seekers put their names on a waiting list and remain in Mexico until their numbers are called. Garcia said that rather than wait, some migrants are choosing dangerous routes in remote areas and hiring smugglers.
“The Trump administration policy is not only killing children, but fueling money to criminal organizations at the end of the day,” Garcia said.