Cochise County, Arizona Sheriff Larry Dever is not taking the federal government and ACLU’s legal assault on border enforcement in his state sitting down. Dever is one of the sheriffs named in lawsuits seeking to block enforcement of Arizona’s new immigration law, SB 1070.
On July 28, he and another named sheriff, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, publicly denounced U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton’s decision to prevent sections of SB 1070 from becoming law and announced their intent to appeal.
Dever has been outspoken about the need for Arizona to secure its border and enforce the law. Having grown up and lived in Cochise County – a county that borders Mexico — his entire life, Dever has seen the adverse consequences of decades of unchecked illegal immigration first hand.
Dever told The Daily Caller that immigration at the border was an entirely different beast fifty years ago. “When I was a young boy growing up, there were a couple of guys who’d come up from Mexico each year and they’d work odd jobs as long as anyone had work for them,” he said. “They’d stay with us, they’d eat with us, and then when the season was over they’d go home and you’d see them again the next spring. That was very common, particularly in the more rural areas of Cochise Country, nobody really thought anything about it.”
During his early years as a young law enforcement official, police deputies were actually rewarded for apprehending illegal immigrants. “I became a deputy in 1976 and occasionally we’d run into illegals in the area and we’d pick them up and bring them to border patrol,” Dever said. “In fact, every time we’d bring in illegals they’d give us a box of practice ammunition.”
Dever said that practice stopped in the late 1980s, as the influx of illegals became more concentrated — though by comparison with today’s preponderance of human traffickers and drug smuggling rings, the phenomena was still rather tame.
Dever points to 1994’s dual border enforcement campaigns in San Diego (known as Operation Gatekeeper) and in El Paso (known as Operation Hold-the-Line) as the main reasons Arizona has become the destination of choice for illegal immigrants. “Those places were significant because back then they were the major illegal entry points into the country. There you’d have hundreds line up on the border, storm the Border Patrol and overwhelm them,” he said. “Those two initiatives [Operation Gatekeeper and Operation Hold-the-Line] had the effect of funneling the illegal immigration activity into Arizona and somewhat into New Mexico and parts of Texas, but primarily Arizona…We started getting over run down here, literally thousands and thousands.”
Dever said that the government initially claimed that the influx of illegal immigrants into Arizona was just the unintended consequence of San Diego and El Paso’s border enforcement projects. “I bought that for a time, but any derelict on the street could have told you that when you draw a line in the sand in one place, it will just funnel them into another,” Dever said.
According to Dever, the former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Doris Meissner, ultimately conceded, “I blew it. I truly believed that when we forced people into the inhospitable desert of Arizona that it would become too difficult for them to cross that they wouldn’t try anymore.”
“Well that was clearly a miscalculation,” Dever said. “And then if you take a look at the GAO reports from about 1995-1999, they will tell you this was the strategy, to funnel these people into the Arizona area and the desert would stop them from coming. It was not an unintended consequence at all, it was a strategic move that failed. And they are still not prepared to deal with it.”
Dever said that his first indication that the attitude toward enforcement was facing a downward trajectory occurred about four years ago. That year, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued Dever for over $35 million for “failing to protect migrant rights.” Of the 16 plaintiffs, 10 refused to be identified, due to their immigration status. The case was ultimately dismissed.
“We were starting to see a lot of open border and human rights groups become engaged here, groups like the Border Action Network,” Dever said. “And people were dying in the desert as they tried to cross the border, but these groups really were not interested in our role on the enforcement end.”
Dever said this was especially manifest in the courtroom when the ACLU was arguing its case before Judge Bolton. “They never used the word illegal. The only time they ever used the word illegal was when they referred to potential police action,” he said. “That attitude is what predominates even the Department of Justice…[U.S. Attorney General] Eric Holder actually stood up after the lawsuit was filed and threatened litigation against officers accused of racial profiling. And that was an out and out threat.”
The government’s response to illegal immigration has been very different from the impression Dever thought it would be after the September 11 attacks when the government organized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). At that point, Dever thought the department would be Arizona’s salvation. But according to Dever, while the rhetoric emanating from DHS has been one of cooperation and support, action so far has been lacking.
Since Arizona tried to take matters into its own hands and tackle the illegal immigration problem with SB 1070, the state has been demonized in many quarters and even targeted by the federal government. Dever finds this astounding.
“When Arizona stood up and said, ‘okay we want to be a full partner [with DHS] because you have a hole in your strategy, the border in Arizona is still porous so we think if we adopt this law we can discourage people from coming here and work on actually cleaning this mess up,’ they sue us!,” Dever said.
After several days of contemplation, Dever has decided that the lawsuits could actually be a positive for Arizona, if the cases result in victories for the state. And he is certain that the cases will ultimately end up in the Supreme Court.
“What greater chance will we ever have to deliver our message than at this level, in this venue. And God bless the president, he gave us this opportunity to showcase and highlight the deficiencies in the immigration strategy and what is going on at the border,” Dever said.
The Legacy Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Des Moines, Iowa, is financing Sheriff Dever and Sheriff Babeu’s legal defense. They are in the process of raising more money to pay for the defense team at www.BorderSheriffs.com.
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