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The Intercept Reveals Border Patrol Is Caging Migrants Outdoors in Deadly Arizona Heat

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Image Credit: Ash Ponders for The Intercept

As a record-breaking heat wave continues in Arizona, reporters with The Intercept say they have observed U.S. Border Patrol holding about 50 migrants inside a chain-link pen in the Sonoran Desert, at the Ajo Border Patrol Station. This comes as the group Humane Borders reports the bodies of at least 13 people were found over the past month in the Sonoran Desert where many migrants cross. “You really can’t overstate how deadly this ecosystem is,” says reporter Ryan Devereaux, who describes the well-funded border agencies’ lack of support for border crossers. Roland Gutierrez, Democratic state senator running against Ted Cruz for Senate, says, “We need to revamp the whole system.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Intercept has revealed U.S. Border Patrol agents are holding migrants in outdoor cages amidst a record-setting heat wave. On Thursday, Intercept reporter Ryan Devereaux and photographer Ash Ponders observed about 50 migrants inside a chain-link pen at the Ajo Border Patrol Station, which is about two hours west of Tucson. The migrants could be seen huddling in a small area where there was a bit of shade on a day when temperatures reached 114 degrees in the area.

Meanwhile, the group Humane Borders says the bodies of at least 13 people have been found over the past month in the Sonoran Desert, which many migrants cross.

In addition to state Senator Roland Gutierrez, we’re joined in Tucson, Arizona, by Ryan Devereaux, investigative journalist for The Intercept, his new piece headlined “Border Patrol Is Caging Migrants Outdoors During Deadly Arizona Heatwave.”

Ryan, welcome back to Democracy Now! Please describe what you’ve seen.

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Thanks for having me, Amy.

Last week I got a tip that the Border Patrol was holding migrants outdoors in some sort of enclosure at the Ajo Border Patrol Station. And this was surprising for two reasons. Anybody who knows anything about the desert in southern Arizona knows that this portion of the desert is as deadly as it gets. And as you mentioned at the top of the show, we are right now experiencing a record-setting and deadly heat wave.

So, I drove out to the Ajo station with photojournalist Ash Ponders. As you said, it was 114 degrees that day. We hiked up to a ridge where we were able to see into the Border Patrol station. We had a telephoto lens and binoculars, and we were able to observe roughly 50 migrants being held in a chain-link enclosure under a sort of carport-style structure that cast a small strip of shade on the ground. The ground was loose rock. The shade was minimal. People were crowding themselves into the shade that was available, shoulder to shoulder. I observed roughly 30 migrants being marched off to a separate section of the facility, and roughly as many staying behind. The ground was littered with water bottles.

There was one large fan and a misting machine set up, and the only furniture in the pen was a set of bleachers, metal bleachers, that were in direct sunlight and appeared to be scorching hot. The fan and the misting machine were pointed in an area with direct sunlight, so they weren’t being used. People were largely quiet and still. There were folks there who were there when we arrived and still there when we left. We observed the scene for roughly an hour there.

And as I’ve gathered more information before and after the reporting, the Border Patrol station there in Ajo has been seeing a lot of migrants coming in. Folks are presenting themselves for asylum down near the border wall south of Ajo, roughly 200 to 300 people a day, but last week, in a 24-hour period, there were 800 to 1,000 people who showed up. Humane Borders and other humanitarian groups are trying to provide aid down there at the border wall but are overwhelmed at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they men, women, children?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: From what I could tell, it appeared to be mostly adult men. But age and gender were sort of impossible to be absolutely certain about from a distance. But the 30 or so migrants who I saw marched off appeared to all be men. However, at the border itself, there are absolutely families showing up, children showing up.

And as you mentioned at the top of the show, in the past month the remains of 14 migrants have been found in the desert. And that’s, you know, on top of the 4000-plus that have been recovered over the past two-and-a-half decades. And all border researchers agree that that is certainly an undercount. And you really can’t overstate how deadly this ecosystem is. And when you combine that with the heat wave that we’re experiencing now, it’s absolutely a recipe for disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: You write, Ryan, “On Wednesday, officials in Maricopa County, north of Ajo, reported that at least 18 people have died from heat in Phoenix this year, with 69 other cases under investigation.” We’re not talking about uncomfortable heat. We’re talking about deadly heat.

RYAN DEVEREAUX: That’s absolutely correct. And the area that we’re talking about where these migrants are being held is as rugged as it gets. It’s as remote as it gets. And even under normal conditions in the summer, this is a part of the desert that you absolutely do not trifle with. And under these conditions, with his heat wave, it is otherworldly. It’s extraordinarily hot and extraordinarily deadly. And that desert will take your life in no time.

AMY GOODMAN: A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection sent a statement to The Intercept that said the agency, quote, “is prioritizing expeditiously transporting noncitizens encountered in this desert environment, which is particularly dangerous during current weather conditions, to [U.S. Border Patrol] facilities where individuals can receive medical care, food, water.” Ryan Devereaux, your response?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Yeah, it’s the sort of statement and response that we would expect from CBP. It’s fairly boilerplate. I think the biggest unanswered question here right now is: How is it that a multibillion-dollar agency, CBP, receives more funding traditionally than ATF, FBI, DEA combined? How is it that this agency does not have the resources to handle the arrival of migrants that is totally predictable? I mean, this happens multiple times a year. It’s been happening for years. And yet, what we’re seeing is a reaction that is what you would expect from somebody who’s seeing this for the first time. So, this is a very well-funded agency, and yet they’re telling us that they don’t have enough resources to avoid putting people outside in a historic and deadly heat wave.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in Texas, you have the Republican Governor Abbott. In Arizona, you have the Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs. When it comes to the border and treatment of immigrants, does it matter whether it’s a Democratic or Republican governor?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: I mean, I think if you look at the events on the ground and how things shake out, we’ve seen over, you know, administration after administration, Democrats and Republicans, the core elements remain the same. The U.S. strategy on the border is funneling flows of migrants into the most remote and deadly stretches of the desert. And this particular area that we’re discussing today, in the sort of west desert of southern Arizona, has turned into an absolute graveyard as a result of that bipartisan policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I wanted to ask Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez — we first talked to you after the Uvalde massacre of children at the elementary school. There, hundreds of Texas law enforcement moved in and did nothing. Here you have Texas law enforcement pushing children back into the water. Can you comment, overall, on what needs to happen? And if you became U.S. senator, what is the kind of immigration reform we need to see?

SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, Amy, we need to revamp the whole system, and I don’t know that people in Congress are ready to do this. But we are facing an aging population in the United States. We can absorb literally millions of jobs in hospitality, construction, agriculture. Right now our farmers and ranchers are struggling with our H-2A visa program. We need to revamp this whole program, take immigration outside of the border, remove it to countries of origin, go to the U.S. consulate and — where you imagine an office that says, “We need 10,000 jobs in hospitality,” and we start filling those jobs from abroad. We can do this in a right way; we just need to have people currently in Congress that are willing to do it.

Additionally, there’s 13 million migrants in the United States that have been here for more than 30 years. We need to address that issue. We need to give them a pathway to residency, first off, and citizenship, beyond that. We have a million DREAMers that we haven’t settled. All of the issues on immigration are right there in front of us, and they’re solvable. It just doesn’t seem that people on either side of this aisle want to solve — want to fix this political football — Republicans, less so. I think that they see them as some future voter that wouldn’t vote for them. But, you know, we’ve seen the fixes come from a Republican named Ronald Reagan many, many years ago with amnesty. We have to get down together and figure this out. Every association of business, Chamber of Commerce and agricultural group across this country wants to solve this problem. It can be solved if we do it in a smart way.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Texas state Senator Roland Gutierrez, now running for the U.S. Senate against Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and Ryan Devereaux, reporter for The Intercept based in Tucson, Arizona. Ryan, we’ll link to your new piece, “Border Patrol Is Caging Migrants Outdoors During Deadly Arizona Heatwave.”

Coming up, an historic settlement. New York City has agreed to pay $13 million to protesters victimized by the police during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Then we’ll look at the film Oppenheimer. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Tony Bennett singing “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” He died on Friday at the age of 96. He was a funder of the civil rights movement and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King.

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