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Jun 13, 2013 7:45 PM by Lorraine Rivera

Indian immigrants held in Santa Cruz County

NOGALES - More than 20 immigrants from India were held in the Santa Cruz County Jail this week. Sheriff Tony Estrada said the 23 men and one woman were picked up by federal authorities on Wednesday. He said they spent five days in his custody.

Estrada has worked in border law enforcement for 45 years and says the Indian immigrants are a rare situation.

"It's very, very unusual. That number is something we have never seen before," he says. "We'll see an occasional individual but for 24 of them that is a surge. That is a high number of people from India trying to come into the United States and then in this particular case seeking asylum because that's what they're requesting, a hearing."

On Tuesday, authorities in Nogales, Sonora reported finding 58 immigrants from Central America and India held captive in a rehabilitation center. Estrada suspects the two groups may be connected through the smuggler.

According to Estrada, the 24 men and women were arrested by Border Patrol or presented themselves to officers at the ports of entry in Nogales and requested political asylum.

A spokesman from Customs and Border Protection would not comment on specifics of the case but said, "Apprehensions in Arizona continued on a 9-year downward trend during FY13. The downward trend is a good indication that fewer people are illegally crossing the border which translates to continued improvement toward a safer, more secure border. Occasionally CBP will see a spike in arrests in people from certain countries as is the case this fiscal year with illegal immigrants from India. CBP is committed to improving border security and will continue to assess, develop, and deploy the appropriate mix of technology, personnel, and infrastructure to counter transnational criminal organizations."

Estrada thinks he knows why the demographic of his jail inmates is growing and changing.

"I can see that with immigration reform and that discussions that are being held that we may have a larger influx of people coming in maybe cause they're deceived because they're told go now your opportunity to get immigration status is good," he says.

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