Prosecutors in Arizona’s border counties have long complained of having no consequential option for charging people who engage in transportation of undocumented non-U.S. citizens (UNCs), but that could substantially change if Senate Bill 1379 is enacted.
It is currently only a Class 1 misdemeanor under Arizona Revised Statute 13-2929 if a person “unlawfully transports, moves, conceals, harbors or shields undocumented immigrants.” A Class 1 misdemeanor conviction provides for a jail (not prison) sentence of no more than six months, and in many courts it can take that long just to get a case to trial.
But SB1379 would reclassify human smuggling transportation activities involving one UNC as a Class 6 felony, making prison time an option. Felony convictions also trigger a loss of many civil rights, including the right to possess or use a firearm.
In addition, the bill would allow state and county prosecutors to charge those involved in the transportation of 2 or more UNCs with a Class 4 felony. This significantly changes the current group prosecution option under ARS 13-2929, which requires at least 10 UNCs to be in a vehicle in order to charge as a Class 6 felony.
SB1379 even redefines who can be charged under state law with engaging in human smuggling transportation. Currently a person must already be in violation of another “criminal offense” in order to be charged under ARS 13-2929. The bill rewords that prerequisite to a violation of a criminal “law or statute.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB1379 on Thursday. It is waiting to clear the Senate Rules Committee next.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrolling in Cochise County suffered several cuts after being assaulted trying to take an undocumented immigrant into custody Wednesday morning, leading to at least one shot being fired from a USBP-issued gun, Arizona Daily Independent has learned.
It remains unclear whether the gun was fired by the injured agent, another agent, or the “combative subject” as John B. Mennell, a CBP spokesman called the person the agent was trying to apprehend.
“Neither the subject nor the agent was seriously injured during the assault,” Mennell wrote in a statement Thursday. “The case remains under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation who will provide additional details as appropriate.”
Very little is known about the assault which sent nearly two dozen law enforcement and public safety vehicles to the Coronado National Monument south of State Route 92 around 5 a.m. when USBP agents encountered a small group of people suspected of illegally entering the United States.
The agent’s injuries reportedly involved cuts or stabs on the hands and face, and were not life-threatening, according to Carol Capas, spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. The agent was taken from the scene for emergency medical care; no statement has been issued by CBP, USBP, or the FBI as to the agent’s condition.
About 24 hours after the attack, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels took to the airways to bitterly criticize the Biden Administration and the leadership of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the unsafe conditions for residents of his county and the heightened dangers to law enforcement personnel.
Dannels told KFYI radio host James T. Harris that the attack on the USBP agent was just the latest incident of escalating violence. There was recently an assault on another USBP agent, as well as a local officer, and one of Dannels’ own deputies, he told Harris.
“It’s not getting better. In fact, just the opposite and we’ve been talking on this, preaching on this, for the last year,” Dannels said. “I’ll just say this – the failed leadership by this president and this administration to recognize, secure our border, secure our communities, and secure our country is devasting to us right now.”
The agent was attacked near Montezuma Canyon, which lies a few miles west of the USBP Brian A. Terry Station in Naco. Agents assigned to that station are among the 3,800 employees of the USBP’s Tucson Sector.
It would not be until 5 p.m. that FBI spokeswoman Brooke Brennan issued a short statement confirming the agency was conducting the investigation. At 6:30 p.m., Brennan issued a one-sentence supplement advising local residents there was no threat to the public.
However, several first responders familiar with the incident have told Arizona Daily Independent the “all-clear” notice could have been provided hours earlier. This would have relieved the worries of several local residents and tourists in the area.
Even USBP Tucson Sector Chief John Modlin ignored the assault on his agent. Modlin was active on social media throughout Wednesday but never bothered to address the morning incident. But he did have time to share a video of a May 2021 rescue of a migrant in California.
CBP recently acknowledged more than 1.7 million people were “encountered” or arrested at the U.S. southwest border in 2021. That figure does not include whistleblowers’ accounts among USBP agents as well as public comments from officials like Dannels of several thousands of migrants who escape arrest.
While USBP agents were dealing with the attack in southern Cochise County, agents with the USBP Yuma Sector were meeting with Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In his radio comments Thursday, Dannels told Harris that the Western States Sheriffs’ Association has taken a position of “no confidence” in Mayorkas.
The association, which represents the 17 contiguous states west of the Mississippi River, issued a declaration in November calling on President Joe Biden to replace Mayorkas with someone “who will work with our federal enforcement partners and the administration to restore security and safety on our nation’s southern border.”
When Gov. Doug Ducey pledged $25 million last month to deploy the Arizona National Guard to the Mexico border he did so after the Biden Administration ignored pleas from state and local law enforcement officials to address the influx of immigrants and smugglers making it unhindered across the border.
The governor noted the National Guard troops would be on State Active Duty to assist with medical operations in detention centers, help with installation and maintenance of border cameras, monitor and collect data from the cameras, and analyze the situation at the border to identify trends in smuggling corridors.
The deployment was well received by two border sheriffs -Cochise County’s Mark Dannels and Yuma County’s Leon Wilmot- who spent the last three months trying to get federal authorities to come up with a plan for the escalating public safety threat and humanitarian crisis at and well beyond the international border.
However, Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos has insisted his agency does not need National Guard support even though the county shares nearly 130 hundred miles of border with Mexico. The same “no thanks” approach was expressed by Sheriff David Hathaway of Santa Cruz County.
The difference in the positions of the sheriffs falls across political lines – Dannels and Wilmot are registered Republicans, while Hathaway and Nanos are Democrats.
The same political division is reflected in an April 21 letter signed by one county supervisor from each of the border counties in which they chastised Ducey for not asking for their input about the border situation. The signers -all of whom as Democrats- serve as their counties’ representatives on the Arizona Border Counties Coalition.
“We are disappointed that you failed to consult with the various Boards of Supervisors of each border county on this matter,” the Coalition letter states. “If asked, we would have requested assistance for transportation services, specifically buses and drivers, to provide those transportation services that we are now left to arrange on our own.”
The letter was signed by Sharon Bronson, Pima County; Ann English, Cochise County; Bruce Bracker, Santa Cruz County; and Tony Reyes, Yuma County.
Chief of Staff Mark Napier of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) serves as his county’s point of contact with the Arizona National Guard. Last Thursday more than 30 troops arrived in Cochise County to perform a variety of non-law enforcement duties, including working with an extensive camera system utilized by the Southeastern Arizona Border Region Enforcement (SABRE) team to monitor cross-border traffic.
The troops are also providing support in CCSO’s jail and other clerical activities which allows sheriff’s personnel to deal with “other service demands and address the increase in challenges associated with the border crisis we currently face,” Napier explained.
On Friday, Napier told AZ Free News he and Sheriff Dannels had no advance notice that Supervisor English was signing the letter to Ducey, but they do not see the supervisor’s stance about deployment as being in conflict with CCSO’s position that the border crisis “presents a public safety, national security and human rights issue” which must be addressed in collaboration with federal, state, and local partners.
“The letter expresses some frustration over the lack of engagement between the Governor and Supervisors with respect to the deployment of AZNG personnel,” Napier said. “That is a matter between those Supervisors and the Governor.”
Napier added the Coalition’s letter also states border security is a responsibility of the federal government, “which in fact it is.” And the letter does not deny there is a public safety concern related to the current conditions along the border, he noted.
The Coalition’s letter makes no mention of the frequency or cost of transportation services any of the counties have had to provide or arrange for.
On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey and a delegation of state lawmakers travelled to Yuma to call on the Biden administration to address the escalating humanitarian and security crisis on the U.S. / Mexico border. The officials received a briefing from U.S. Border Patrol, local law enforcement and community leaders.
The Governor was joined by Senate President Karen Fann, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Adjutant General Kerry Muehlenbeck, Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot, Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, Yuma County Supervisor Jonathon Lines, San Luis Mayor Jerry Sanchez, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, local agriculture leaders and other leaders and members of the legislature.
The officials received a briefing on Border Patrol operations from Chris T. Clem, Chief of the Border Patrol Yuma Sector. The Yuma Sector encompasses 126 miles of international border with Mexico, with three checkpoints currently manned by over 700 Border Patrol agents.
The tour follows the Governor’s Declaration of Emergency and decision to deploy the Arizona National Guard to the border to support law enforcement efforts.
Ducey declared a state of emergency in six counties including Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz, Yuma, Maricopa and Pinal. The team of up to 250 Guardsmen, along with state troopers and other law enforcement agencies, will assist with medical operations in detention centers, install and maintain border cameras, monitor and collect data from public safety cameras, and analyze satellite imagery for current trends in smuggling corridors.
The state will provide up to $25 million in initial funding for the mission.