WASHINGTON – Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Steve Henry said Wednesday that when his deputies go to the border they face a situation similar to a warzone in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“The fact that everybody we encounter, almost, is armed. The only difference is that we don’t exchange shots with them most of the time,” Henry said after speaking to a panel in Washington.
Henry was joined by sheriffs from around the country as part of a discussion panel hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent organization that advocates for limits on legal and illegal immigration, and the House Immigration Reform Caucus.
Many of those speakers blamed what they called the Obama administration’s lax enforcement of border and immigration laws for the problems they are seeing in their communities, many of which are far removed from the border.
The sheriffs, who also came from Iowa, North Carolina and Maryland, said that because drugs are a problem in their communities it is important that immigration officials support them in their efforts to enforce immigration laws.
Rockingham County, N.C., Sheriff Sam Page said that he has seen an increase of crimes by undocumented immigrants in his community.
“What I tell my deputies is that the problems you see at the border, and you think it’s coming, it’s already here,” Page said.
Henry, referring to drug traffickers pushing drugs through the U.S.-Mexico border, said sheriffs “have terrorists in our own backyard.”
Both programs partner immigration officials with local law enforcement agencies to help identify undocumented immigrants when they have been arrested for the other crimes. Both programs have been credited with contributing to the deportations of record numbers of undocumented immigrants.
“There is a lot of hoops and layers that you have to jump through to (use) 287(g),” Henry said. “Overall we’re happy with it, it’s better than nothing.”
But both programs have been heavily criticized by pro-immigrant activists who say that, instead of targeting criminals, the programs target undocumented immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes.
Some critics have even said that these programs have made it less likely that people in immigrant communities will report crimes out of fear of being deported.
Henry calls that “a disingenuous argument.”
“The reality of things is that it doesn’t affect our relationship,” with immigrant communities, he said.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said that while the sheriffs at Wednesday’s panel expressed satisfaction that federal officials have been partnering with their departments, he does not take the Obama administration seriously when it comes to enforcing immigration laws.
“I’m not going to believe that this administration is serious about cracking down on illegal immigration,” said King who was representing the House Immigration Reform Caucus on the panel.
“There isn’t anything in the next year … that President Obama could do to convince me that he has actually changed his mind,” King said.
Department of Homeland Security declined to respond Wednesday to King’s charges, instead pointing to a speech on border security that Secretary Janet Napolitano gave last week in Washington.
“We have committed unprecedented resources to this effort and, this year, will see yet again a historic drop in illegal crossings and more and more contraband seized,” Napolitano said then. “So let’s take the ‘border is out control myth’ out of the equation.”