January 17, 2024

A January 17 Arizona Daily Star report described freezing temperatures and lack of access to basic necessities threatening asylum seekers gathered outdoors along the border, especially in southern Arizona. As many as 1,000 people were reported awaiting processing in the Tohono O’odham Nation lands along the border in the remote desert southwest of Tucson. A majority of the arrivals reported in this region, as cited by the Arizona Daily Star and described by Tohono O’odham Chairman Verlon Jose, are asylum seekers in family units, including young children. 

Since December, aid workers have coordinated daily presence in the Arizona border region, particularly in the context of freezing temperatures and heavy rains, often being the sole providers of food, water, shelter, medical care, and addressing the growing sanitation needs. A volunteer described his experience, “shoveling human excrement into [the] trenches that were dug”. Volunteers were also reportedly transporting asylum seekers experiencing medical emergencies, despite Border Patrol’s threats to arrest them, as volunteers described the lack of response by authorities even in dire situations. 

Volunteers from Southern Arizona humanitarian aid group, No More Deaths, built a make-shift encampment in the desert region east of Sásabe, with tents and a cooking area, and attached tarps to the border wall to create additional shelters from the cold. CBP subsequently placed “cease-and-desist” signs on the tarps, stating it was a safety hazard and interfered with law enforcement and construction crews’ access to the road, as well as obstructed visibility. 

After pressure from aid workers and the Tohono O’odham nation, Customs and Border Protection installed one large, heated tent, portable toilets, and a hand washing station near the San Miguel gate. 

“It’s solely their responsibility to be doing almost everything that we’re currently doing”, stated a humanitarian aid volunteer. 

Bregel, Emily. “Life-Threatening Cold, ‘sanitation Crisis’ for Migrants at Arizona-Mexico Border.” Arizona Daily Star, January 17, 2024. https://tucson.com/news/local/subscriber/arizona-mexico-border-tohono-oodham-asylumseekers-migrants-surge/article_52e4a176-b565-11ee-87a6-67208722eaeb.html.

Sector(s): Border Patrol, CBP, Tucson

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Conditions of Arrest or Apprehension, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable, Disregard of Public Health, Endangerment

Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Mexico