Nearly 19,000 children from Central America crossed the dangerous Darien Gap this year on foot from Tijuana, Mexican officials said Wednesday, adding that no minors were captured near that remote part of Arizona as of Wednesday evening.
A recent surge in the number of migrant families at a U.S. port of entry has been concentrated in the rear, Arizona officials said. The figure does not indicate that all migrants were arrested far from the border — they just didn’t show up in the opposite direction, as has happened in years past.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested a record 31,057 migrants along the Southwest border in May, with most coming through ports of entry. Some of them ended up in the remote area in Arizona known as the Darien Gap, which is near the Mexico border and is closed for long stretches of the year.
A small pocket of border enforcement in Arizona along the northern edge of the arid and volatile desert has created a new strategic peril for the U.S. government, one that has several routes for migrants who are often willing to risk many miles on foot or foot into Mexico with little food or water and barely enough to eat.
About 11,000 unaccompanied minors walked the 48 miles to Arizona in 2017 — mostly along the foothills of the Rio Grande — and another 16,000 crossed the Darien Gap this year, according to an earlier government report. Another 2,500 of them walked through the valley for the 20 miles to the border without anyone spotting them, according to that report, which was based on interviews with dozens of migrants and interviews with a leading Mexican official.
Border Patrol officials say they expect more children will cross through the Darien Gap because of what they say is Mexico’s lax enforcement of unaccompanied minor rules.