They are critical to keeping our border safe: 19,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents work around the clock to stop drugs, criminals, and more from entering the country.

In recent years, we’ve seen a surge of migrant crossings, and the job of a border patrol agent has become more challenging.

Chief Patrol Agent Sean McGoffin, of the Yuma Sector, gave ABC15 his take on what’s been happening at the border.

When asked if he would characterize what’s happening at the border as a crisis, McGoffin responded, “I think that depends on who’s version of a crisis and what that is. I think it’s certainly alarming what’s happening along the border and has been for the last couple years, but the men and women of the Border Patrol go out every day, we give it our best, and we take care of business every day.”

Last year, McGoffin became the chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector – at a critical time, when the sector was experiencing several surges in migrant encounters.

Currently, the number of encounters in the Yuma Sector is down, but McGoffin says it’s important to put it into perspective.

“As an agency as a whole, we are still dealing with elevated numbers,” McGoffin explained. “But I think it’s important to note migration ebbs and flows along the border and it does throughout other countries.”

That’s where using all their resources, technology, and tools in Mexico comes in handy, to stay ahead of what’s happening before it even reaches the U.S. border.

“We are constantly looking at any migration patterns going on south of us and in constant contact with our partners in Mexico, talking to them about what they’re seeing. We are doing that collectively because the most important thing for both of us is to have a safe border,” he said.

McGoffin says that can also mean pitching in for other sectors, which his sector is currently doing, aiding the Tucson Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol, which is currently seeing a surge in migrant crossings.

That doesn’t mean the threat in the Yuma Sector has completely vanished. McGoffin points out the numbers are still much higher for the Yuma Sector than they were just a few years ago.

During our interview, McGoffin said the Yuma Sector saw 8,800 migrant encounters total for Fiscal Year 2020, which ran from Oct.1, 2019 – Sept. 30, 2020, which was during the height of the pandemic.

McGoffin pointed out that for the first five months of FY 2024 (Oct. 1, 2023 – Feb. 29, 2024,) the Yuma Sector had already seen roughly 27,000 migrant encounters, more than triple what was seen in all of FY 2020 – with seven months left in this Fiscal Year.

MORE BORDER COVERAGE: 48 Hours on the Border

“I think any chief will tell you what concerns them the most is making sure that we have as much capabilities as we can to create operational advantage and be able to detect anything that enters the country, right? That’s the part that worries us all the time.”

When it comes to what the Yuma Sector would need to keep doing its job effectively, McGoffin told us it’s a combination of people and technology.

“I don’t think you’ll hear any chief say they don’t want more manpower available,” McGoffin explained. “But we need infrastructure that goes along with it to continue this growth… which includes being able to have better detection capabilities.”

Another challenge the Yuma Sector faces is the diversity of the terrain they cover in the 126 miles of their territory – from the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, navigating the Colorado River, to rockier terrain closer to the Yuma-Pima County line.

“It’s a challenge everywhere,” said McGoffin. “We ask people if they’ve seen the Yuma Sector, then you understand what goes on in that sector; it’s not the same in every sector. Whether you have desert, mountains, canyons — all of these things are different. But here in Yuma, it adds to the difficulty. So many of the vehicles we utilize to get to areas make sure we are there and have an idea of what transpires in those areas.”

The terrain is just one of the many reasons why the journey for migrants is so difficult – and sometimes, even deadly.

McGoffin agrees – it is extremely dangerous for migrants.

“We also make sure we get them the medical attention they need,” he explained. “I think that’s the human element a lot of people don’t see.”

McGoffin agrees that it’s also a dangerous job for his agents – it’s something he recently saw firsthand. Back in January, a Border Patrol agent with the Yuma Sector was attacked by human smugglers, according to McGoffin. The attacker hurled rocks at the agent’s head and face.

At the border, the issues remain complicated – and in Washington, even more complex. One thing that most agree on is that the rules need to be updated to reflect a changing world. McGoffin says no matter what lawmakers hand down, his men and women will be ready.

“In the Border Patrol, we get to make internal policies,” McGoffin said. “But we don’t get to make a lot of policy decisions. I have worked for a multitude of administrations and things have changed – but all under the same immigration laws. We haven’t had any substantive changes in the last 20 years, I believe. So we execute what we are asked to do and we do it as effectively and efficiently as possible under the confines of the law.