Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the majority of Arizona’s sheriffs are tired of waiting for Congress to do something constructive about the unsecured Arizona / Mexico border. So they are joining together to support draft federal legislation which would bolster border security, along what the governor has described as “a patchwork of federal, state, tribal and private lands.”
On Tuesday, 11 of Arizona’s 15 sheriffs took part in the meeting with Ducey to discuss the overwhelming problem of human trafficking and illegal drugs coming across the 372-mile border. After the meeting, the sheriffs in attendance voted to advocate for the legislation drafted by Ducey’s staff in hopes of persuading Sen. Mark Kelly and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to get on board.
“It’s not just an Arizona problem,” said Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. “It’s an America problem.”
Lamb was joined at the meeting by Apache County Sheriff Joe Dedman, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll, Gila County Sheriff Adam Shepherd, Graham County Sheriff P.J. Allred, Greenlee County Sheriff Tim Sumner, La Paz County Sheriff William Ponce, Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster, Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse, and Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes.
Ducey’s meeting with the sheriffs came one day after his State of the State address to the Arizona Legislature.
“In Arizona, we will secure our border. We will protect public safety. We will not back down,” Ducey said in his speech. “We will fight this fight until Washington, D.C. finally acts.”
The governor used his State of the State address to highlight his commitment to a multifaceted, coordinated border security effort.
“No member of the Arizona congressional delegation that actually cares about the safety of our communities should vote ‘yes’ on any legislation until the president agrees to language that does the following: secures our border with a wall, a physical barrier and virtual surveillance; increases resources to the local communities that have been devastated by these dangerous open border policies; and makes it clear that our border is not open to illegal immigration,” Ducey said Monday before going on to call out Kelly and Sinema by name.
Just two weeks ago, Dannels and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot met with new CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus and U.S. Border Patrol leaders to discuss the border.
“In short, we shared our frustration with the lack of shared action plans and no-end being in sight,” Dannels told AZ Free News of the Dec. 28 meeting. “I asked what this administration’s end-game was. I received no answer.”
Dannels said local law enforcement officials, which included San Luis Police Chief Richard Jessup, commended the dedicated CBP officers and USBP agents working the border under such challenging circumstances.
“I asked Commissioner Magnus to provide supportive leadership to these officers and agents during this crisis,” Dannels said.
One week after his inauguration, President Joe Biden issued Executive Order 14008 pausing new oil and gas leases on public lands. But perhaps the best known provision of the executive order was the goal of ensuring at least 30 percent of all federal land and coastal waterways are conserved by 2030.
The purpose, according to Biden, is to address climate change, protect biodiversity, and create equitable access to nature.
At the time of Biden’s announcement, about 12 percent of land across America was under sufficient oversight to be considered conserved, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. To meet the 30 percent goal would require conservation of about 440,000,000 additional acres.
By comparison, the State of Texas comes in at 171,057,000 acres.
The fact that the federal government already controls roughly 640,000,000 acres would seem to go a long way toward achieving the 30 by 30 goal, now better known as the America the Beautiful Initiative. However, nearly one-third of those acres are not conserved in a way that would likely comply with the unfinalized standards of the initiative.
Back in March, more than 60 members of the Congressional Western Caucus, sent Biden a letter expressing concerns with 30 by 30. The letter noted that with more than 90 percent of federally-managed lands lying west of the Mississippi, their constituents are concerned Western states will be disproportionately impacted by policies utilized to achieve the 30 by 30 goals.
“Stewardship of our lands is embedded in our Western values. Sustainable, healthy land is the lifeblood of our rural communities and our outdoor heritage and rural economies thrive when our lands are properly managed,” the letter stated. “However, the 30 by 30 initiative displays a dangerous thoughtlessness and far too many of our questions have been left unanswered.”
Yet seven months after that letter, very little is known as to how the Biden Administration intends to meet those goals. And that prompted an Oct. 12 letter to the President from Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels on behalf of the Arizona Sheriffs Association.
“As in the past, we have concerns including proposals such as these lacking specific measures, imposing unnecessary land use restrictions, and limiting economic opportunities that have existed for decades on these very lands,” Dannels wrote, also noting that federal officials were using the term “federally managed lands” instead of “public lands” in 30 x 30 documents.
But while Arizona’s sheriffs encouraged collaboration with state agencies and local governments to address climate change and drought impacts within the Western States, the letter cautioned that federal officials “should avoid imposing unilateral authority to further limit uses and impose increased land use restrictions on federal lands in the West that have been extremely divisive and controversial.”
Similar letters were sent to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Sen. Mark Kelly. A spokeswoman for the Arizona Sheriffs Association said no responses were received in the last month.
Some 30 by 30 documents mention the need for incentivizing voluntary stewardship efforts on private lands and by supporting the efforts and visions of States and Tribal Nations. The fact that privately owned lands are home to nearly two-third of all species on the U.S. Endangered Species list also has landowners in the western United States concerned about preservation of property rights.
“Traditional mechanisms of land protection like permanent acquisition, easement or federal designation will rightfully play a role in achieving 30 by 30,” the Western Landowners Alliance noted in a recent statement. “At the same time, over-reliance on these tools, or an insistence that these mechanisms are the only way to protect land fails to recognize the contributions to conservation of those already on the land.”
Deb Haaland, as U.S. Secretary of Interior, was tasked to coordinate with the Secretarys of Agriculture and Commerce along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and White House Council on Environmental Quality to propose guidelines for determining what lands and waters qualify for conservation.
The America the Beautiful Interagency Working Group, as it is known, is also responsible for providing an annual progress report to the White House as well as ensuring federal dollars get distributed toward conservation programs.
The working group came under scrutiny earlier this year after questions were raised about the protocols utilized for awarding $17 million in federally funded grants for urban park projects. One of those projects sent $1 million to the City of Santa Barbara, California to renovate a park, including the installation of synthetic turf at the park.
A former justice of the Arizona Supreme Court who used to prosecute cross-border criminals before becoming a judge says many Arizonans along the border feel abandoned by President Joe Biden, but he has an idea to help stop the influx of undocumented immigrants and smugglers coming into the state.
During an interview with KFYI’s James T. Harris on Thursday, Andrew Gould agreed with a recent assessment by Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels that the situation at the border is out of control, but the crisis “is far, far worse than you could imagine,” he said.
“We’ve created an open border, and the Biden Administration has essentially abandoned American citizens just like he did with Americans in Afghanistan,” Gould said.
Gould told Harris that there are options for making Arizona unattractive to those illegally entering the United States via Arizona. The options could be undertaken without the help of federal authorities such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Border Patrol, which get their orders from Biden.
One option which Gould believes can be easily implemented is establishing a No Trespass Zone from Cochise County to Yuma County on state and private lands along the 325 miles of border between Mexico and Arizona.
According to Gould, Arizonans are now “at the mercy of these cartels who are making billions of dollars off crime. They are pushing illegal immigration, fentanyl, methamphetamine, sex trafficking, extortion, murder, bribery. And there‘s no help for us coming from the federal government.”
The answer, Gould believes, is for local and state officials to join with property owners to post no-trespassing signs on private property and state land. The signs are necessary to satisfy the “reasonable notice” requirement in state law before anyone can be arrested for criminal trespass.
Gould brings a unique perspective to the subject, as a one-time prosecutor for Maricopa and Yuma counties where he handled major felony cases. He went on to serve as a judge with the Yuma County Superior Court and the Arizona Court of Appeals before being appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2016.
The appointment as a supreme court justice came with a practically guaranteed seat on the bench until age 70. In fact, Gould was retained by voters in the November 2020 General Election for a six term.
But in April, the 57-year-old Gould shocked court watchers when he stepped down to run for Arizona Attorney General, who is not only Arizona’s top prosecutor but also its top legal advisor to dozens of state agencies. With illegal immigration and drug / human smuggling among the biggest legal challenges facing the state, Gould says Arizonans cannot wait on the Biden Administration to address the public safety, public health, and environmental harms posed by an uncontrolled border.
A no-trespassing zone is something Gould has discussed with border sheriffs, including Dannels and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot. Both expressed interest in the idea, he said.
A conviction for misdemeanor criminal trespass can carry a jail sentence of 30 to 180 days. Most non-U.S. citizens would be ordered held in custody pending resolution of the charges, so Gould says Arizona’s county jails would need financial support to handle the increased incarceration costs.
One option, he noted, is to aggressively target Cartel assets to help with the expense.
Just two days after he took part in a vehicle pursuit and arrest involving human smuggling, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels is set to meet with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday in Texas.
Mayorkas is scheduled to visit with law enforcement officials and tour facilities in El Paso and McAllen. Among those invited to discuss the immigration crisis along the country’s 1,900-mile southwest border will be Dannels, who serves as chairman of the National Sheriffs’ Association’s border security committee.
The group, Dannels told AZ Free News, is striving “to bring collective resolutions and answers to our border security issues.”
Cochise County shares an 83-mile stretch of the international border. It was Dannels’ experiences with drug and human smuggling that prompted then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to swear in the sheriff on the Homeland Security Advisory Council in 2018.
But last month, Dannels was one of 32 HSAC members fired by Mayorkas, leaving just three members in place. Dannels says he plans to bring a letter to hand deliver to Mayorkas addressing the sheriff’s thoughts about HSAC, which the secretary has said will be reformatted in the coming weeks.
“I hope all stakeholders will have a better understanding with some defined objectives to work toward as we promote collaboration,” Dannels said, adding the current border situation “is more important than me and my appointment.”
Dannels has been outspoken about the Biden Administration’s lack of coordination and communication with local officials concerning the surge of undocumented immigrants coming into the United States. He is also being suggested as a possible Republican candidate for U.S. Representative when Ann Kirkpatrick seat comes open with her retirement in 2022.
On Tuesday, Dannels was involved in a vehicle pursuit which led to the arrest of three men on a residential property in Hereford. One of the men was a Phoenix resident suspected of transporting two illegal immigrants for financial gain.
According to the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were alerted to a possible human smuggling incident south of Sierra Vista around 3 p.m. A vehicle description was provided along with a license plate number.
Dannels was the first to locate the vehicle “travelling well over the posted speed limit for that area,” a CCSO statement reads. “Sheriff Dannels and a second Deputy conducted a traffic stop near Three Canyons and Highway 92, however as they approached the vehicle the driver sped away from the scene heading north on Highway 92.”
A short time later the occupants of the truck exited the vehicle near a residence. Dannels and his deputies were assisted by Arizona Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Border Patrol to apprehend the men without injury, although one of the men attempted unsuccessfully to climb up to a second floor balcony of the house, losing his shoes in the process.
“Initial interviews of the apprehended suspects revealed that two of the men were undocumented immigrants who were identified and released to US Border Patrol, while the third man without the shoes was identified as a US citizen and the driver of the vehicle,” the statement reads. That third man was Dustin Howerton, 23, of Phoenix.