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Closing Lukeville crossing brings bedlam to Arizona border

“This is an unacceptable outcome that further destabilizes our border."
A U.S. Border Patrol agent shouts at immigrants who cut into a long line of people awaiting transport from the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 6 in Lukeville.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent shouts at immigrants who cut into a long line of people awaiting transport from the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 6 in Lukeville. John Moore/Getty Images
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The Lukeville Port of Entry on the Arizona-Mexico border has been closed since Dec. 4, adding hours to the drive of Phoenix residents heading to the beach and Mexican tourists wanting to shop for the holidays.

A surge of migrants crossing into the southwestern U.S. prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection to close the Lukeville port so it could focus its agents on processing the migrants. During the last week of November, border patrol agents reported apprehending 17,500 migrants trying to cross the border. There is no timetable for reopening the port of entry.

CBP said that the high number of apprehensions has been "fueled by smugglers peddling disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals."

The closure has resulted in hundreds of asylum seekers spending days outdoors with little food or water as they waited to be processed at the port of entry.

“This is an unacceptable outcome that further destabilizes our border, risks the safety of our communities and damages our economy by disrupting trade and tourism,” said Gov. Katie Hobbs and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly in a joint statement.

“The Federal Government must act swiftly to maintain port of entry operations, get the border under control, keep Arizona communities safe and ensure the humane treatment of migrants," the statement added.
click to enlarge U.S. Mexico border, Lukeville
The international port of entry between the U.S. and Mexico in Lukeville was closed on Dec. 4.
John Moore/Getty Images

Popular tourist spots affected by Lukeville closure

Lukeville is one of six ports of entry along Arizona's border with Mexico and the most convenient one to pass through between Arizona and the popular beach destination Puerto Peñasco. Arizonans looking to travel to the beach town will have to cross through Nogales or San Luis and add hours to their trip.

A video posted on X a day before the Lukeville port’s closure showed a normally busy Puerto Peñasco beach completely empty. Mexican nationals who cross into the U.S. to shop for the holidays may be dissuaded by longer travel times and costs associated with crossing at Nogales or San Luis.

Lisa Urias, CEO of the Arizona Office of Tourism, told Phoenix New Times in a written statement that southern Arizona is a popular winter travel destination for Mexican tourists.

“While we understand the need to divert resources to the pressing challenges CBP is facing, the decision to close this active port of entry couldn't have come at a worse time for the economies on both sides of the border, which rely on the daily flow of people and goods in both directions for their livelihoods, especially during the holiday season,” Urias said.

Some members of Congress, including Tucson Republican Rep. Juan Ciscomani and Tempe Democrat Rep. Greg Stanton, are working to increase resources at the border. Senators currently are haggling over a White House proposal to spend $14 billion package for 1,300 border patrol agents, 375 immigration judges and 1,600 asylum officers on the southern border.

But the border funding is just part of a larger negotiation — it’s attached to a bill that would provide about $106 billion in aid to Ukraine and Israel. The Biden administration said on Dec. 6 that the president is willing to “make significant compromises on the border” with Republicans in order to pass aid for Ukraine.
click to enlarge Katie Hobbs, Arizona Governor
Gov. Katie Hobbs announced on Friday the creation of the Border Security Office within Arizona's Department of Homeland Security.
Elias Weiss

Arizona politicians push to reopen Lukeville

On Friday, Hobbs announced the creation of the Border Security Office within Arizona's Department of Homeland Security. She then urged the Biden administration to use 243 nearby National Guard members to assist in reopening the Lukeville port.

“With this additional manpower, I am confident that you will have the resources necessary to continue trade and tourism through the port while keeping Arizona communities safe,” Hobbs said in a letter to the Biden administration.

The new office and the state’s work to secure the border cost Grand Canyon State more than $512 million, Hobbs added.

Arizona's economy, as well as those of the U.S. and Mexico, depends heavily on ports of entry for cross-border trade. However, Lukeville’s imports have the lowest total economic value among Arizona ports of entry, according to the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who represents the Lukeville area, urged the Biden administration to reconsider the closure, calling it a “dereliction of federal responsibility.”

“The small number of agents from Lukeville reassigned to respond will only make a marginal impact,” Grijalva said. “The indefinite closure of Lukeville is a major disruption to the borderland communities I represent and many across the state of Arizona.”
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