Charlotte Cuthbertson – The Epoch Times Dec 26, 2018
Right along the southwest border, sheriff’s departments are left picking up the pieces in the wake of cross-border crime. It then spreads beyond the border.
Consequently, sheriffs need a bigger seat at the table during border security discussions, said ex-Marine and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot.
“We all too often see interviews in Washington [with] mayors and governors but, no offence, they are not the ones that are down here on the border,” Wilmot said in an interview at his office on May 25.
“They are not the ones that are investigating the crimes. They are not the ones out here when it’s 120 degrees, processing a crime scene where 14 people were left to die in the desert.”
Wilmot has witnessed it all in his 30-plus years with the sheriff’s department. He knows a vulture will peck a human body down to nothing but bone, because he has seen it. He knows bandits follow the smugglers over the border and rape the women before running back to Mexico, because he is left with the victims. He knows the cartels will commit any crime to get drugs and humans across the border.
Yuma County is 5,522 square miles—larger than the state of Connecticut—and it shares 126 miles of border with Mexico. California and its Imperial Sand Dunes are just a mirage away on the western border beyond the Colorado River.
The Yuma Border Patrol Sector used to be the worst in the country for illegal crossings, until it became a poster-child for the effectiveness of a border fence.
In 2005, before the fence, more than 2,700 vehicles crossed the Colorado River and open deserts, loaded with illegal immigrants and drugs, according to Border Patrol numbers.
Apprehensions steadily increased to more than 138,000 in fiscal 2005.
“Yuma battled entrenched smuggling groups for control of the border,” said Border Patrol in a video. “Mass incursions often left agents outnumbered 50 to 1. Agents were assaulted with rocks and weapons daily.”
Following the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Yuma tripled manpower and added mobile surveillance, as well as fencing and vehicle barriers.
Yuma went from having 5.2 miles of fencing to 63 miles, and subsequently saw an almost 95 percent decrease in border apprehensions by 2009, when Border Patrol made about 7,000 arrests.
Ancillary Crime Down 91 Percent
It also directly affected what the sheriff’s department had to deal with.
“We were able to reduce [ancillary crimes] by 91 percent,” Wilmot said. “The deaths in the desert, the rapes, the robberies, the homicides, the burglaries, the thefts.”
But the fence was only one part of the equation, said Capt. Eben Bratcher. The other part, under Operation Streamline, was 100 percent prosecution of illegal border crossers.
“If you did try to cross and you got caught, you were held accountable. There were consequences,” Bratcher said. “So the combination, the fence slowed them down, but they are going to find a way over it, under it, through it, whatever. But the real issue was, when you got caught, you went to jail. It stopped.”
Bratcher said that before the fence and Operation Streamline, the area was out of control.
“My patrol guys would be out there, and we’re trying to do our primary job, which is community safety and investigating crimes, and we would encounter people who were being smuggled or sneaking across, every night,” he said.
“If you tried to pull over a van that had the windows spray-painted black, you were absolutely ensured that there was going to be a vehicle pursuit coming because they would just take off, and over and over and over again we experienced that. Several horrible crashes, multiple people dying—and not just the people that were smuggling and being smuggled—but innocent people who were trying to live here were impacted hugely by that kind of activity.
“Operation Streamline shut all that off for us.”
However, during the Obama administration, Operation Streamline was curtailed and the 100 percent prosecution policy was halted.
“When they did away with that, they [started] coming again, and the numbers that are coming through Yuma are way back up—not where they were, but it is disturbing to see the trend increasing again and the tactics changed again, too,” Bratcher said. “When you take away the prosecution, rather than trying to sneak through, now they just walk across and give themselves up.”