In a Fox interview, Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County refuted claims of the administration that the border is secure.
Dever said he was speaking out because President Obama’s recent assertions of border safety were not accurate according to the sheriff’s ground-level experience. As well as appearing on tv, the internet (an interview with Hot Air) and the radio (John and Ken Show, 10 minutes in), Dever also authored an opinion piece that was printed in the New York Times.
Abandoned on the Border, New York Times, May 12, 2011 THIS week President Obama toured the Southwest, in part to promote what he claims are federal advances in border security. But he has said little about the lawsuits by his administration and the American Civil Liberties Union against Arizona’s immigration law, passed just over a year ago but still unenforced, thanks to a federal injunction. The law requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a crime if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in this country illegally; it also allows them to cite illegal immigrants for failing to carry documents required under federal law, whether they’ve committed a crime or not. As the fight over the law, Senate Bill 1070, carries on – Gov. Jan Brewer has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case – violent crime rooted in unchecked illegal immigration continues to spread here in southern Arizona. It makes me wonder if the lawyers, judges and politicians involved grasp what it is like to be a law enforcement officer on the Mexican border. As sheriff of Cochise County I am responsible, along with my 86 deputies, for patrolling 83.5 miles of that border, as well as the 6,200 square miles of my county to the north of it – an area more than four times the size of Long Island. There is no river between Arizona and Mexico to create a natural obstacle to illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human smuggling, and our county is a major corridor for all these. At best, illegal aliens and smugglers trespass, damage ranchers’ land, steal water and food and start fires. At worst, people who have come here hoping for freedom and opportunity are raped or abandoned by smugglers and left to die in the desert. Nor are the migrants the only victims. Just over a year ago, while officials at the Department of Homeland Security were declaring they had secured ”operational control” of most of the southern Arizona border, my friend Robert N. Krentz Jr., a local rancher, was murdered, most likely by drug smugglers. The people of Cochise County support the state’s immigration law because we want this violence to end. Understandably, we get frustrated and disheartened when the White House, which has failed to secure the border for generations, sues us for trying to fill the legal vacuum. The administration’s suit makes several claims. For one, it argues that only the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration. But that’s a strange argument, given that federal agencies regularly work with state and local governments on cross-border crimes. Senior officials at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have also argued that state and local law enforcement officers are able to make arrests only for criminal, rather than civil, violations of immigration law. Criminal violations include aiding illegal immigration or re-entering the country after deportation; civil violations include overstaying a visa or simply being here illegally. But this places an absurd burden on my deputies and me. Under the law, if I see people I suspect of being in the United States illegally, I already have to decide whether there is probable cause that they are here illegally. (Contrary to what its critics say, the law doesn’t allow me to question anyone I want, and I have no desire to do so.) Whether illegal aliens committed a crime to enter this country, or a civil offense to remain unlawfully, they are still breaking the law, and S.B. 1070 is Arizona’s solution to help the federal government hold them accountable without becoming embroiled in confusion that enables individuals to fall through the cracks. At the same time, it assures the standards of probable cause and reasonable suspicion are applied throughout the process. Of course, the law’s critics prefer to think that any state-level effort to control illegal immigration is racially motivated, and that the law is just an invitation for us to racially profile Americans and legal residents of Hispanic descent. For example, I’ve had more than one person ask me, sneeringly, ”What do illegal immigrants look like?” In response, I tell them it’s not really what they look like as much as what they do that concerns me. Among other things, they generally run off into the desert when they see our officers approach. Citizens and legal residents don’t normally do that. What’s more, such critics have a strange impression of what law enforcement officers along the border actually do. In Cochise County, my deputies and I often have to travel many miles to respond to a resident’s call for assistance. The last thing we have time to do is harass law-abiding people. Indeed, these days we have even less time, as the law has opened up a wave of suits against my office and other sheriff’s offices along the border from immigrant advocacy groups – so many that other sheriffs and I formed a legal defense fund, the Border Sheriffs Association, to help our departments counter them. Neither my fellow sheriffs nor I believe the law is a silver bullet, but we do believe it is an important tool. It’s up to the Supreme Court to decide whether we can use it. Larry A. Dever is the sheriff of Cochise County, Ariz.