Even from thousands of feet above, you can see just how unforgiving the Arizona desert truly is.

“It gets worse as we go southeast,” explains Agent Brett Howard with Custom and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations Unit.

ABC15’s Nick Ciletti rode exclusively with border officials in a helicopter amid border monitoring and security and surveillance efforts ahead of the end of Title 42. Working along the U.S.-Mexico border

It’s not even noon and already, Agent Howard is getting his first call of the day.

“So it’s 72 miles and will take us 33 minutes to get there,” Agent Howard explains.

Watch part one of the exclusive coverage in the player below. Flying along the border with CBP agents


“So when you respond to this call of 20 people, what is your role in this going to be?”

Agent Howard:

“It can be a number of things – so a lot of times, agents might actually see the group and they will wait for an area unit to get on scene so that when they go in to make an apprehension, they’ll sit and keep an eye on them. And then when we get on scene, they make the apprehension. The reason why we do that is because without air, the group could disperse and start running.”

Agent Howard went on to say many of these groups that cross are led by people known as “coyotes,” and that many times, the coyotes are able to run off, leaving their groups alone to be confronted by agents.

To make the trek even more treacherous, Agent Howard says most of the migrants aren’t prepared for the unforgiving terrain, potentially deadly heat, or any of the other obstacles they’ll encounter along the way.


“You don’t know what kind of condition these people could be in, so they might need medical assistance really the gamut?”

Agent Howard:

“Correct. A lot of times, we get the 911 calls especially here in the Baboquivari Mountains, I don’t think people coming across have a full grasp of what they’re actually going through – the terrain they had to hike through, weather conditions they’ll encounter. For the most part, they do not come prepared for a multi-day hike.”

Heading west towards Ajo, a call is made to send another unit. So instead, the helicopter heads south, flying closer towards the border; From the sky, a number of trails are seen that have been created over time by foot traffic from the hundreds, even thousands of migrants using the same path.

And it’s flying over the border where a range of barriers are visible – from the actual border wall, to fencing just a few feet tall, to barely anything at all.

Agent Howard says he believes the walls help in their fight to keep the border safe.


“Would you like to see more of the wall built? Do you think that would help?”

Agent Howard:

“Well – I think anything you can do to help reinforce our borders would be a good thing. You always want more tools in your tool-belt to help do your job.”

Agent Howard is all too familiar with this often dangerous terrain. As a helicopter pilot for CBP, he’s trained to handle just about all kinds of land formations, but says even as experts, there are places that are simply too dangerous.

“There are not a lot of places to land. Even if we were in the Blackhawk, it would be difficult to land and deploy agents,” Agent Howard said.

So far in the 90-minute fly-along with CBP, it has been relatively quiet, but heading east from Arivaca in rural Pima County, that all changes.

Over the radio, officials hear about a group of migrants that is walking just west of Nogales near the border.

“It’s so bizarre to see them walking through like that. It just doesn’t happen that much,” Agent Howard said.

What is striking is seeing this group walking with children. Agent Howard says he sees children on a daily basis.

Watch part two of the exclusive coverage in the player below.

Flying alongside CBP patrol agents with Title 42 ending How many individuals are encountered at the border?

In fiscal year 2022, which goes from October 2021 – September 2022, CBP had 2,378,944 total encounters along the southwest border.

Compared to fiscal year 2021, CBP had 1,734,686 encounters along the Southwest Border.

The numbers continue to reveal a mixed bag when you look at month-to-month numbers.

According to CBP’s March 2023 report, 162,317 people were encountered between ports of entry along the Southwest Border. In March 2022, that number was 211,181.

In December 2022, CBP had 251,487 encounters with migrants at the Southwest Border, which CBP says was a 40% increase from the previous year.

“They’re not going to come through with enough food or enough water,” says Agent Howard. “They can’t carry that much. They are obviously not prepared for what they’ve gotten into.”

As we get closer to the group walking near the border, Agent Howard counts roughly 15 people.

“I counted 15, and that’s not including any toddlers or infants being held.”

Title 42 is set to end at 8:59 p.m. Arizona time Thursday, with officials expecting a large increase in migrant traffic.

Ahead of Title 42’s expiration, several Arizona sheriffs vocalized their concern.

“The system is broken; there’s a lot that needs to be fixed,” said Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.