COLUMN: Border problems putting the United States at risk

Published 10:15 am Thursday, September 9, 2010

Note: This is the first of a two part series


Imagine the federal government closing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Black Hills National Park or Yellowstone due to the presence of drug and human smugglers. By the way, the parks would be closed indefinitely because the drug cartels and human smugglers are so dangerous and prolific that the entire law enforcement community cannot stop them. Sounds outrageous, doesn’t it? Like something out of a fictional movie, maybe? Impossible scenario on US soil, right?

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This exact scenario is reality in entire sections of southern Arizona, where parts of five federal lands – including two designated national monuments – are posted with travel warnings or are outright closed to Americans who own the land because of the dangers of “human smugglers and drug trafficking” along the Mexican border. Federal land managers have placed some 48 signs throughout southern Arizona warning American citizens and property owners of the danger of entering selected areas due to illegal immigration traffic, armed drug runners and human smugglers.

Since 2001 the bodies of over 1,750 men, women and children have been found in Arizona’s southern mountains and desert. Although the arrests of illegals have declined, immigrant deaths are increasing. In July 2010, Pinal County alone recorded 59 suspected deaths of individuals trying to cross the desert from Mexico. In March 2010 Arizona’s controversial 1070 legislation was sparked for passage when Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was murdered by a suspected illegal alien crossing his ranch.

Warning signs have been posted at the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Coronado National Forest, which covers nearly 1.8 million acres in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Dennis Godfrey, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona office, said roughly a dozen signs were posted in early June 2010 along the Sonora Desert National Monument advising that travel in the area is not recommended due to “active drug and human” smuggling. The signs are not far from where a Pinal County deputy was shot and wounded during a confrontation with marijuana smugglers in April and the fatal shooting of two men suspected to be drug smugglers.

Mexican drug cartels have expanded their hold on American soil to nearly 70 miles north of the border, occupying entire sections of the United States mainland south and north of I-8 near Casa Grande, Ariz. The armed cartels hold strategic surveillance points throughout the southern Arizona desert hills and mountains for the purpose of spotting law enforcement, federal agents and Border Patrol movements. Pinal County is three counties north of the border and has suffered considerably from the effects of drug and human smuggling. “I no longer have control over parts of my county,” the Pinal County sheriff has said. “We are outgunned, we are out manned and we don’t have the resources here locally to fight this.”

Los Zetas is the the Mexican cartels’ security force that holds major parts of Arizona by force. Los Zetas was formed by 31 Mexican Army soldiers who were trained by U.S. special forces in the United States. The plan was to train a select group of Mexican soldiers to special forces caliber, then return them to the Mexican military to help defeat the drug cartels. Instead, the soldiers deserted and sold their skills to one of the Mexican cartels. They have since become one of the most feared paramilitary forces in Mexico, responsible for thousands of drug related deaths. Many of the original U.S.-trained soldiers have been killed in drug, police, and army battles — but not before they had trained new Los Zeta recruits. No one knows their exact strength, however many reports put their numbers in excess of 250. Recent reports from Mexico have Los Zetas moving from a position of cartel enforcer to forming a cartel of their own. The drug and human smuggling wars between Los Zetas other cartels, police and Mexican Army units have resulted in over 20,000 deaths, primarily in Mexico.

Secret reports newly leaked to reveal that as early as 2004 the CIA suspected activity between the Mexican cartels and Al-Qaida. The CIA report warned that Al-Qaida wanted to explore smuggling operatives into the United States through the porous U.S.-Mexican border. Other government documents corroborate the CIA suspicion.

A 2006 congressional report, “A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border,” prepared by the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations, indicated that 1.2 million illegal aliens were apprehended in 2005 alone, and 165,000 were from countries other than Mexico. Approximately 650 were from nations the Border Patrol defines as “designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism.”

WSB-TV 2 Atlanta, published a population breakdown from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement staging facility in Florence, Ariz., dated April 15, 2010, which listed detainees from as far away as Afghanistan, Armenia, Bosnia, Egypt, Ghana, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Botswana, Turkey and many other countries. Based on U.S. Border Patrol statistics, there were 30,147 illegal aliends from countries other than Mexico apprehended in fiscal year 2003; 44, 614 in fiscal year 2004; 165,178 in fiscal year 2005; and 108,025 in fiscal year 2006. Most were caught along the U.S. southwest border. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Studies, from the Office of Immigration Statistics, federal agencies detained 791,568 deportable aliens in fiscal year 2008 – and 5,506 of them were from 14 “special-interest” countries.

The U.S. has deployed several strategies to handle other-than-Mexican (OTM) detainees. Until late in 2005 a catch-and-release policy was the predominant procedure. The Border Patrol, faced with inadequate jail space and cumbersome judicial procedures, simple released thousands of OTM detainees with a notice requiring that they appear in court at a later date. The Border Patrol catch-and-release procedures included detainees from know terrorist sponsored countries. Over 80 percent of those released never showed up for their scheduled immigration hearing. The policy has changed to include expedited procedures for deportation and additional bed space for OTM detainees. However, Border Patrol policy still uses catch-and-release if the OTM entering the U.S. makes it at least 100 miles inland. There is simply no larger threat to the U.S. population than that posed by OTMs crossing into our country with desires to engage in acts of terrorism. Terrorist have long desired to inflict damage on US soil equivalent or in access of that which was completed on 9-11. An act of such magnitude during our current economic crisis could bring the United States to the brink of disaster.

Wayne Goodnature was Mower County sheriff from 1979 to 1995. After living part-time in Arizona for about three years, he has been a full-time resident there for the past year.