The overwhelming surge of illegal immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border is drawing agents away from the northern border, where apprehensions are also increasing significantly.
Sault Ste. Marie Border Patrol Agent in Charge Henry Laxdal told WJFW apprehensions in the Detroit sector increased 42 percent between 2017 and 2018, though the numbers pale in comparison to the southern border crisis.
“Our operations are just completely different, every border environment that you face,” said Laxdal, who previously worked in the Tucson sector. “Right now, if you didn’t have the epidemic with these human caravans at the southern border, (the northern border) may be more of a focal point.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows a total of 4,316 apprehensions across the entire northern border in 2018, and 1,930 in the Detroit sector, the busiest. For 2017, the total was 3,027, with 1,070 in the Detroit sector.
Of those apprehended on the northern border last year, 2,245 were Mexican, 445 were Guatemalan, 244 were Hondurans, 196 were from Romania, 182 were from India, 172 were Canadian, and 127 were from El Salvador. A dozen or more also came from Brazil, China, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Ukraine and Venezuela, according to the data.
Despite the rising numbers, Laxdal told WJFW agent transfers to the U.S.-Mexico border means there’s now just 60 agents working to cover hundreds of miles of open border in his sector, including a lot of areas where folks can simply swim or boat a short distance to cross.
“When you’re trying to cover 500 miles of water border, you have areas … where you might have 100 yards between the U.S. and Canada,” he said.
That’s one agent for every 8.4 miles of border.
Last month, Canadian cab driver Juan Antonio Garcia-Jimenez pleaded guilty to collecting $8,680 to smuggle at least nine illegal immigrants through a walkway along an underground train tunnel that stretches 1.6 miles between Ontario, Canada and Detroit, The American Mirror reports.
Authorities told The Detroit News the 53-year-old dropped the illegal immigrants off at the tunnel entrance on the Canadian side and explained when to go through to avoid cargo trains, a trek that’s incredibly risky because the walkway is only 17 inches wide and in disrepair.
“There is zero room,” CBP spokesman Kris Grogan said. “If a train would have come through they would have been killed.”
Border Patrol agents arrested nine people emerging from the tunnel in Detroit over the last year and all pointed to Jimenez. Federal agents then arrested him when he attempted to cross into Detroit to celebrate his wedding anniversary in August 2018. Jimenez was sentenced to 16 months in prison and fined the same amount he bilked from illegal immigrants – $8,680.
Laxdal told WJFW the increasing number of apprehensions in the north doesn’t necessarily mean more people are attempting to enter the country. It could be agents are getting more efficient at catching them, he said.
“What has gone up is our ability to find and locate individuals who have crossed illegally prior to, and our ability to find them now,” he said.
It’s an entirely different situation along the U.S.-Mexico border, where agents are apprehending more than 1,000 illegal immigrants per day in some sectors. In fiscal year 2018, a total of 396,579 illegal immigrants were arrested attempting to cross the southwest border. In total, 521,090 illegal immigrants were apprehended or turned themselves in last year.
That figure now stands at 460,294 for fiscal year 2019, with five months still left to go.