PoliticsImmigration48 Hours on the Border


A migrant's journey to the US border

The journey alone for migrants to get to the U.S.-Mexico border can be long and dangerous, but for many it's only the beginning.
Posted at 12:58 PM, Mar 13, 2024

We get questions all the time about what happens when a migrant is apprehended at the border. The honest answer is: It all depends on a number of factors and variables.

It's just before 5 a.m. on a Wednesday. Under the cover of darkness, three migrants cross over from Mexico near a border wall outside of Yuma, Arizona. But within moments, Border Patrol agents are there to take them into custody.

Just a short drive away, about 20 migrants are camping out, waiting for Border Patrol agents to arrive and apprehend them as well. All of the migrants Scripps News Phoenix spoke to in that area plan to request asylum, like Maritza and her 6-year-old daughter.

They've built a small fire to keep themselves warm on a chilly desert night. Maritza says they are fleeing gang violence in Chile — where she owned a small clothing store — and explained that she is fearful for her life.

"You don't play with them," she said.

But what Maritza didn't realize is that immigrating and crossing through the desert had its own risks. Along the way, she and her daughter were robbed six times.

"It's very difficult to come here," she explained with tears in her eyes.

It's already been a long journey, but it's just beginning for so many migrants.

Arizona nonprofit creates transition center for migrants
Joanna Pena and her daughter, migrants from Bogota, Colombia.

Arizona nonprofit creates transition center for migrants

The Regional Center for Border Health in Yuma County has helped more than 215,000 migrants since 2021.


Once migrants are apprehended, they're taken to the Yuma Sector Border Patrol headquarters for a rigorous screening process. Yuma Sector Border Patrol Chief Sean McGoffin says agents are able to determine right off the bat if someone is here legally.

"We immediately try to collect their information," McGoffin said. "We make sure we are taking fingerprints, biographic information, where they are from, taking their photos, and entering that into our programs."

From there, many migrants that have been crossing in the past few years request asylum, which would play out in immigration court, not with Border Patrol.

Some of those migrants in Yuma County end up in Somerton at the Regional Center for Border Health, which has established a transition center for migrants who are trying to figure out their next steps.

The center provides meals, water, COVID testing, and also WiFi and computer access so they can book their own flights and make travel arrangements to stay with friends and family in other parts of the country as their asylum requests play out.

From there, the Regional Center for Border Health provides free buses to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport so migrants can catch their flights. On one of the buses, Scripps News Phoenix met a 27-year-old man from Guatemala named Casimiro.

Arizona cab driver shuttles migrants to next leg of their journey
Cab driver Jesus Poblete, right, shakes the hand of a migrant he shuttled to an airport.

Arizona cab driver shuttles migrants to next leg of their journey

Jesus Poblete has been driving people in Tucson for the past decade, and recently, migrants have been his main customers.


Casimiro explained that he had to leave behind his wife and young daughter to request asylum here in the United States. His hope is to find work so he can send money back to his family.

Needless to say, it's already been a long and traumatic journey for Casimiro.

"All night, I couldn't sleep," he said. "It was just so cold. I'd sleep for a little, but then I'd wake up because I would be shaking so much."

Once they arrive at the airport, a group of about 20 migrants gets off the bus and is guided inside. Casimiro is heading to Terminal 4 where he will board a quick flight to Los Angeles to stay with relatives before his immigration court date next month.

For so many of these migrants, it's the final leg of the physical journey — but the legal journey is now just beginning.

"I feel really good," said Casimiro. "I almost feel like crying because I'm just so happy. This goal has been achieved."

Most of the migrants Scripps News Phoenix came into contact with are seeking asylum, but the reality is that most asylum requests are denied. For information on the asylum process, visit the Migration Policy Institute website.

This story was originally published by Nick Ciletti at Scripps News Phoenix.