Arizona sheriff: Border is a mess, union hampers Border Patrol work

Mary Ramirez | Contributor

NACO, Ariz. — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s has reassured Americans that America’s southern border is “more secure than it has ever been.” Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County, Ariz. believes she’s wrong, and he told The Daily Caller that he can prove it.

Dever, a 30-year law enforcement veteran — 16 of them as a county sheriff — showed TheDC the view from the Coronado National Monument region, a mountainous region near the border. He chuckled and motioned toward a National Park Service sign that vividly warns visitors that it’s physically dangerous to venture close to the border.

“Which is it?” he asked, pointing to the sign, “Is it this, or is it what the politicians are saying in front of the TV cameras?”

“You tell me. The people who live here will tell you it is this.”

Dever said public-sector union rules were making it difficult to control the border effectively because of scheduling restrictions. And those who do patrol the border are instructed to avoid putting themselves in harm’s way.

“Border Patrol agents have been instructed not to work in certain areas because of the danger levels,” stated Dever, “Upper management denies that, but the guys on the ground will tell you it is absolutely true.”

Cochise County in southeastern Arizona has a front-row seat for an onslaught of illegal crossovers that began in the late 1990s after the federal government beefed up two other border crossings in El Paso and San Diego. “Operation Hold the Line” and “Operation Gatekeeper,” respectively, were successful, but Dever said the unintentional consequences included diverting Mexicans toward Arizona.

The Tucson sector, with major roadways leading to Interstate 10, is now a border-crossing mecca. It’s relatively easy, Dever said, to disperse people — and drugs — in this area. “Half of the illegal aliens who are caught trying to come into this country are caught in this little corridor down here,” he explained.

The peak years for illegal crossings were 1999 and 2000, but he said the border isn’t any safer. “Many of those coming in years past were coming on their own,” he remarked. “Today 99 percent of crossings are coordinated with the coyotes.”

Coyotes are Mexican nationals who specialize in smuggling humans and materials across the border in exchange for money, drugs or other payment.

“They’ve figured out that they can make even more money by charging those who want to cross with a fee” based on their nationality, Dever said. Mexicans seeking to cross the border are charged a few thousand dollars, while it costs OTMs — “Other Than Mexicans” — substantially more.

The illegal immigrants bring family members, drugs, guns — and sometimes wholesale destruction. The often-drought-plagued Coronado region has seen more than its share of wildfires lately.

“Here we’ve documented that there are several border-related causes for the fires,” Dever told TheDC. “There are intentional fires — that is, fires set to distract law enforcement to facilitate a crossing or a getaway; warming fires started during travel; and, finally, cigarette induced fires.”

The latest one destroyed 52 homes and five businesses.

And yet there is a border fence. Looking east atop Coronado, it’s plainly visible for miles.

To the west, however, where mesquite trees and other thick brush grow, there is no fence. Pointing to the peak behind him, Dever explained that it would be flush with illegal immigrants by the end of the day.

He recalled a conversation about that peak with a border patrol agent who “said that by four or five o’clock it would be crawling with people.” Many of the agents, Dever explained, have less than two years of experience. And the Mexican immigrants who cross over gladly invest the two hours it takes to reach the top.

“It was two o’clock at that moment,” he recounted, “and I asked him why they didn’t start up the mountain now to head them off — to which he shrugged his shoulders.”

Dever said there had been a border-crossing attempt a few hours earlier. But despite a few more trucks than usual, the Border Patrol station in Naco seemed unusually calm. The parking lot was full of unoccupied patrol trucks.

Between eight and ten separate groups of people make it across this particular 26-mile stretch of border fence every week, he told TheDC. Most groups range in size between six and 60 people; some are as large as 100 or more.

The border-crossers are not always migrants looking for work. Area residents see vandalism and violence on a regular basis, which Dever said is connected to drug cartels.

“These people are profiteers. They are pirates. They are interested in one thing: money. If you pay the price, they’ll move anything you want them to move.”

Dever also said that within minutes of TheDC’s arrival in Naco, Janet Napolitano’s Homeland Security  Department would know he and his guests were there.

“I know for a fact that these agents have specific orders to contact Napolitano’s office whenever I bring anybody down here,” he said. And within moments, the whole town would know of his presence: Scouts watch on both sides of the border, taking note of anyone related to law enforcement.

The scouts are equipped with powerful telescopes and sophisticated communications technology. Dever said Border Patrol agents know they are there, but won’t root them out. And with full-time scouts watching the border, crossings in broad daylight are on the increase.

The fence itself, where there is one, is unlike the razor wire-topped steel barriers erected to keep convicts inside their prisons. It’s uneven, inconsistent, and in places put together with scrap metal from past wars.

“You notice anything odd about the placement of that metal sheeting?” Dever asked, pointing to the horizontal placement of some corrugated scraps. The way builders had carelessly laid it actually facilitated an easier climb upward.

Farther down was a stretch of so-called “no-climb fencing,” a design supposedly engineered to prevent any kind of crossing. Dever said a skeptical Naco resident decided to test it, and brought a group of teenage boys and girls to attempt the climb.

Everyone made it, and made it quickly. The boys averaged just 14 seconds, and the girls just 23.

Cameras line the border fencing, but Dever said they do not always prove useful. “Often there’s just one person watching 30 screens,” he said. “There’s bound to be fatigue.”

He recalled how Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly once asked him why U.S. authorities “just don’t build a fence and be done with it.” The solution, he said, won’t be found in comprehensive fences alone — but in better guardianship of the fences we have.

“The Great Wall of China only worked as well as it did because it was well-guarded with outposts and consistent communication,” Dever said.

Note: This article was updated after publication to reflect that Border Patrol agents’ labor union does not directly set their work schedules. Sheriff Dever has told TheDC that he takes responsibility for the misunderstanding. 

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