As part of Arizona 360's continuing coverage of the border, this week we looked at factors that drive the steady rise of asylum seekers and the ripple effect felt at ports of entry across the state. According to Customs and Border Protection, more than 1,000 officers and support staff work at ports of entry at the border and in airports. The Tucson Field Office for Customs currently has nearly 200 vacancies, and in recent months officers have been called upon to help Border Patrol process large groups of migrants requesting asylum.
"It is a challenge, but right now it's something we have to do. There is honestly a crisis when you look at the volume, the number of people that are being detained right now in the Rio Grande Valley and the El Paso Sector," Director of Field Operations Guadalupe Ramirez said.
Ramirez acknowledged shortages with staffing but added that hiring has improved in recent years. "Even though we are at a deficit, it's less of a deficit than it was a couple years ago," Ramirez said. "We have had several of our officers through the academy, through our training, and they're hitting the line a few at a time every week. And it is keeping us above water."
Arizona 360 toured areas of the Mariposa Port of Entry and the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales. At the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, officers continue to process migrants seeking asylum. Nogales Port Director Mike Humphries discussed how that has put a strain on resources.
"Our detention areas were built several years ago and they were designed for short-term detention, and mostly what we got back then were adult males that were in our custody for no more than a few hours," Humphries said. He believes officers have been unfairly portrayed as being unsympathetic to the asylum-seeking families they now regularly encounter.
"We're caring for their nourishment. We're caring for their medical needs. We're getting them processed as expeditiously as possible and then we're getting them on to ICE. We're very compassionate, we're very caring," Humphries said.