EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – U.S. Border Patrol agents watching Southern New Mexico roads stopped 10 suspicious vehicles and apprehended nearly 30 unauthorized migrants in a 24-hour period this week.

The apprehensions and arrests of several drivers who are U.S. citizens took place on New Mexico State Highway 26 northeast of Deming on Tuesday. The road links Deming to Interstate 25, which leads to Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Colorado Springs, Denver and beyond.

The first encounter happened at 1 a.m. and involved a car transporting two migrants. Two hours later, Border Patrol agents stopped an SUV carrying four migrants along the same stretch of road. That raised red flags among the agents, who received authorization to set up a tactical checkpoint.  

“It’s a secondary line of defense for anything that comes through illegally. If we have the manpower, we set them up around Deming, Santa Teresa, Lordsburg […] areas beyond our (permanent) checkpoints,” said Carlos A. Rivera, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which includes New Mexico.

The Border Patrol staffs permanent checkpoints along I-10, I-25 and State Highway 9 north of Columbus, New Mexico.

The tactical checkpoint yielded swift results. Six drivers were stopped within a few hours’ time Tuesday for transporting unauthorized migrants. Two additional vehicles were pulled aside later in the day. A total of 23 foreign nationals were apprehended at the checkpoint, tweeted Peter Jaquez, chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. The migrants were fingerprinted and expelled under the Title 42 public health law.

At least one of the drivers was referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution under immigration smuggling statutes.

Though border agents spent the bulk of last year processing asylum-seekers coming in between ports of entry in El Paso, illegal smuggling activity has not dwindled, federal officials said.

Migrant encounters in the El Paso Sector in FY 2023. (CBP graphic)

Border agents have pulled more than 800 unauthorized migrants off passenger buses in the last year and, since October 1, detected 55 “stash houses” where smugglers keep migrants who successfully evaded agents until they can transport them to the interior of the United States. A total of 651 migrants have been apprehended inside those stash houses, Rivera said.

Since October, two truckers have been arrested for hiding 51 migrants in commercial vehicles, compared to only three trucks with 192 migrants stopped the previous fiscal year.

Southern New Mexico, with vast stretches of desert and not all protected by a border wall, has long been a hot spot for transnational criminal organizations to try to smuggle migrants into the United States. The El Paso Sector since October 1 has recorded 106,561 migrant encounters. Of those, 72,356 have been handled through Title 8, which often involves asylum seekers, while 34,205 resulted in Title 42 expulsions.