A remote Arizona border crossing that was shuttered last month to help strained immigration authorities cope with a surge in migrants in the nearby desert will reopen this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said on Tuesday evening.
The agency did not explain why it had decided to reopen the crossing, and it did not say whether there had been any recent shift in the daily arrival of hundreds of migrants who unlawfully slip through gaps in the border wall in the deserts before surrendering to immigration authorities.
The crossing in the tiny border town of Lukeville, Ariz., was a legal passage between Mexico and the United States vital to workers, families and businesses. Roughly 2,000 to 3,000 people a day crossed north, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The next-closest crossing is several hours away by car.
The closure of the Lukeville crossing point on Dec. 4 had crippled local economies in Arizona towns that rely on a steady stream of tourists traveling south to the Mexican beach town of Puerto Peñasco, and had drawn condemnations from residents and elected officials alike.
Business had dried up at restaurants, gas stations and travel agencies along the way, and people who work and live on opposite sides of the border were cut off from family. On Tuesday, residents and Arizona elected officials who had accused the Biden administration of mishandling a crisis greeted the news of the reopening with relief.
When Kari Garcia, 31, heard that the crossing would be reopening at 6 a.m. on Thursday, she said, “I almost cried. Now I get to go home.”
Before the closure, Ms. Garcia had crossed every day from her home in Sonoyta, Mexico, to her job at a hotel in Ajo, Ariz.
During the closure, Ms. Garcia’s 45-minute commute ballooned to six hours, after she said she had been forced to drive to a crossing two hours to the west and loop around. She said she had been sleeping at work in Arizona, seeing her four young children only on weekends.
“It’s terrible,” she said.
In addition to reopening the port of entry in Lukeville, Customs and Border Protection officials said they would also resume some suspended operations at other border crossings, including allowing pedestrian traffic at the San Ysidro crossing in San Diego and allowing vehicle crossings on an international bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas.
In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said it would continue to “assess security situations, adjust our operational plans and deploy resources to maximize enforcement” against people who cross unlawfully.
Gov. Katie Hobbs of Arizona, a Democrat, called the reopening “welcome news” but reiterated her criticism of the federal government’s handling of the swell of migrants.
“This closure shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” she said in a statement on Tuesday night. “Arizona’s ports of entry are vital to national security and trade, and it’s critical that the federal government sends more resources to ensure this does not happen again.”
Ms. Hobbs said the federal government’s decision to close the Lukeville border crossing had created an “unmitigated crisis” and urged the Biden administration to redeploy National Guard troops in the area to the border to support reopening the crossing.
Nationally, the arrival of record numbers of migrants from across the world has not only stressed the capacity of law enforcement at the border, it has become a humanitarian and political crisis in Chicago, New York and other cities receiving thousands of migrants, as well as a volatile election-year issue.
The number of migrants crossing through the border’s 260-mile-long Tucson sector has exploded in recent months, making the area the busiest corner of a 2,000-mile border coping with record numbers of crossings. Border authorities reported 119,864 migrant encounters in the Tucson sector in November, the most of any part of the border and a 158 percent increase from a year ago.
Over the past month in Lukeville, hundreds of migrants from South America, India, Mexico and West Africa who said they were trying to escape violence or poverty crossed each day by ducking through holes cut into the wall by smugglers. They then hiked up dirt roads until they reached a holding area where they sat for hours or days, waiting to be processed by border agents.
Laurie Cantillo, the chairwoman of Humane Borders, an aid group that provides water to migrants, said the desert around Lukeville had been quieter over the past several days. Migrant numbers can fluctuate widely from day to day. She said she was glad to hear that the crossing would be reopening.
“It was absolutely the right thing,” she said. “Look at all the pain it’s caused local communities.”