SIERRA VISTA, Arizona — Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels doesn’t mince words. He’s angry that local law enforcement and the citizens who call the Southwest border home have been left out of the decision making process when it comes to security and immigration reform.
Dannels has lived along the border since 1984. He remembers when the dangers from smugglers circumventing the rocky, mountainous terrain were few and far between. Now, he says, a different breed of narcotics traffickers has amassed weapons, technology and small armies of death; threatening not only the stability of Mexico but U.S. national security as well. He works closely with DEA, FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement but the system is not perfect.
Sitting at a local eatery under the shadow of the Huachuca Mountains, he questioned how much time, if any, the law makers who drafted SB 774 — known as the “Gang of Eight” bill — had actually spent on the border. Dannels, along with residents living on the Southwest border and local senior law enforcement officials told TheBlaze on a recent trip to Arizona that they were left out of the decision making process on border security. They say the Gang of Eight bill just isn’t good enough when it comes to addressing the complex security issues they deal with every day.
“Look at (Sen. Marco) Rubio out of Florida — have you been down here, Rubio?” he said, noting that drug cartels had just replaced a radio relay station on the mountain that the sheriff’s team had taken down less than three weeks earlier.
The Sinaloa Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug organizations, uses the “receiver/transmitter to extend their communication footprint between Mexico and the Huachuca mountains,” a U.S. Intelligence official, familiar with the terrain, told TheBlaze. It’s how they stay ahead of law enforcement and keep track of their contraband, the official added.
Home invasions, burglary, theft, destruction of private property — and a constant fear that it’s only going to get worse — is something Cochise County border residents live with daily.
“I say to myself, ‘Rubio, you’re making decisions for me, for my state, for my county, my city when you haven’t even been here – what an insult, what do you know about our border? You know nothing about our border. Yet you’re making those decisions without even speaking to us.'”
Rubio’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The Senate’s Gang of Eight bill, drafted this year by a bipartisan group of well-known lawmakers, was supposed to be the answer to the nation’s 11 million plus illegal immigrants. Or at least that’s what these senators hoped. Instead, it has left many lawmakers, local law enforcement officers and American residents living along the nearly 2,000 mile Southwest border scratching their heads.
A majority of House Republicans say it is nothing more than amnesty for illegal residents, worsens entitlement spending, overrides the more than 4 million people trying to enter the U.S. legally. Critics say the border measures in the bill do not provide any guarantees for the billions of dollars allocated for security and give enormous power to the Department of Homeland Security.
Ranchers and law enforcement agents in Arizona told TheBlaze they don’t trust that anyone in Washington understands how serious the security issues are, especially with the growing power of Mexican drug cartels operating on the border.
‘It’s very frustrating…we can’t stop the cartels’
In 1984, Cochise County had 50 U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents working along it’s 83 mile border. Today, it’s increased to 1,300 agents and 200 Immigration and Custom’s Enforcement officers.
The Gang of Eight bill will add 20,000 more Border Patrol agents and an additional 700 miles of border fence.
“The men and women working for the federal government have a very dangerous job out there which I respect,” Dannels said. “They do the best with what they’ve been given…It’s very frustrating. Even with 1500 federal agents and I have only 83 miles of Southwest border – we can ‘t stop the (cartels) the drugs and human trafficking.”
During the 1990s, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol implemented Operation Gatekeeper, whereby agents built a strong three-tier line of defense to stop the flow of contraband and people, in urban Southwest border cities. Dannels said that policy helped the big cities but “sent the bad guys ballooning to use crossings in rural communities like Cochise County.”
He said the Gang of Eight bill doesn’t deal with the real problem. Along with Rubio, the other seven members who drafted the new immigration bill are Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.); Chuck Schemer (D-N.Y.); Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.); Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
The bill passed 68 to 32 in the Senate with 14 Republicans onboard. It has been rejected by some House Republicans openly and others have avoided it all-together. Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, promised that he would not bring the bill to a vote on the floor because much of his party opposes it.
“You can understand why the citizens of Cochise county are upset, they detoured the drug cartels right into their backyards,” Dannels said. “I say it everyday…on the federal side- you created it, you solve it. You need to redefine your plan of the 90s, and don’t put a maintenance key on border security until that’s done and I stand strongly on that.”
Dannels isn’t giving up on the federal government. He and nearly a dozen other border sheriff’s held several conference calls over the past month with Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) regarding different border security legislation he’s drafted.
‘Border Security is not one size fits all’
Late night “cat and mouse” car chases between Dannel’s officers and drug runners have become more common and more dangerous.
His officers don’t need to be left in the dark in Washington as well, he said.
Not all hope is lost.
The border sheriffs say some of their concerns are being addressed in the House bill. It gives local law enforcement a stake in what happens in their communities.
“Border security is not one-size-fits-all and the border sheriffs know perhaps better than anyone the unique challenges in their jurisdictions and what resources are needed to meet those challenges,” McCaul told TheBlaze. “When I met with several border sheriffs this week, the one thing I kept hearing is ‘finally, someone is listening to us.'”
The bipartisan bill, called the Border Security Results Act of 2013, authored by McCaul, and co-authored by Texas Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee, Henry Cuellar, and Republicans Ted Poe, Pete Olson, Blake Farenthold and and Kevin Brady makes more sense than the Gang of Eight bill, Dannels said.
It would require state governors to work closely with Homeland Security officials, assessing the individual needs of the states in regards to security and immigration. It would also require the Government Accountability Office to issue reports on the progress of those measures.
‘No Faith in the federal government’
John Ladd, a rancher who has a close relationship with Sheriff Dannel’s office, says he doesn’t have time for Washington politics and he has very little faith the federal government.
He’s not alone.
Other ranchers that spoke with TheBlaze on condition of anonymity, out of fear of retaliation from the cartels, said lawmakers use the border issue for their own political purposes but rarely follow through with their promises.
Like many of the residents in the area, Ladd, a third generation Cochise rancher, lamented the days when drug cartels didn’t threaten his way of life. His ranch runs 10 miles along the south border and to the north it sits on state route 92. Ladd estimates that 32 trucks have illegally crossed from Mexico through his property since January.
He counts the tire tracks. Ladd’s also come face to face with the trucks on his ranch and watched as they made their way to route 92. He says the calls to federal law enforcement fall on deaf ears and they rarely if ever show up to check out his claims.
“We don’t even know what or who was in those semis that crossed my property,” said Ladd. “Homeland Security is the most inept federal bureaucracy. They lie when they tell the American people the border is more secure today than it ever has been.”
A DHS Official, who works along the Southwest border, said “it’s difficult to do the job you need to do when administration officials tie your hands.”
“It’s a shell game – you think something is happening but it’s all theater,” the official said. “Ladd is speaking for a lot of us.”