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Yuma, along with other border counties in Arizona, has begun seeing a surge in immigrants crossing the border. With thousands flooding into the U.S., places like Yuma are suffering as Border Patrol is overwhelmed and local officials and services are stretched thin.
But the influx of immigrants is a nationwide problem and Yuma is just one of the entry points for human and drug trafficking, which is causing a crisis on the border and throughout the whole country.
Sheriff Leon Wilmot of Yuma County spoke with The Western Journal to describe the chaotic situation at the border.
At the end of the year, Mexico began emptying shelters and the Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as “Remain in Mexico” from the Trump administration) were upheld.
This caused a rush at the border.
Wilmot said that typically Border Patrol agents in Yuma deal with about 700 to 800 immigrants a day. But those numbers shot up to over 1,100, even up to 1,300 individuals crossing the border each day.
This overwhelmed Border Patrol and took agents off the border roads in order to try to process those entering. The problem is that Border Patrol was barely able to handle the normal numbers of immigrants crossing the border, let alone an influx.
The surge also strained local resources in Yuma. Immigrants flooded the one hospital in town, called ambulances to pick them up at the border and even walked into Wilmot’s jail to try to get processed.
Under current policies, Wilmot sees no end in sight to this influx.
“[F]rom talking with our federal partners on the ground, they don’t see this stopping or slowing down at all. It’s just increasing,” he said.
But despite this apparent crisis, Homeland Security has not seemed to take any note of the issues at the Mexico border with Yuma.
Wilmot said that Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas was actually on the way to San Diego near the end of the year for a cybercrime meeting and didn’t bother to stop in Arizona, despite “knowing full well that there is a crisis down here on the border to the point where the mayor had to declare an emergency because it’s impacting local resources.”
Homeland Security’s neglect is particularly concerning since it is the cartels in Mexico that are actively manipulating a large part of the immigration surge. They are trafficking both humans and drugs over the border.
“That’s all orchestrated by the cartels. Every bit of what you see is orchestrated by the cartels. Every person that you’ve seen that’s crossed, those numbers are paying anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000 to be smuggled across,” Wilmot said. “Just for Yuma alone, the cartels are making about $15 million a week, armed individuals being smuggled across. They control every bit, every mile of this border, so they dictate what crosses and where.”
Wilmot said the cartels tie up Border Patrol and local law enforcement resources with a surge of immigrants and then smuggle humans and narcotics across the border unnoticed. Fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine are coming into the states in huge quantities.
Yuma and other parts of the border are just corridors for these drugs that then spread all across the nation, without apprehension.
“That’s what the American people need to understand. This border crisis is no longer just on the border. It’s coming to their backyard, and they’re going to have to deal with it,” Wilmot said.
The drug smuggling is a two-part problem as well. Not only are narcotics being brought into the U.S., but there is little prosecution if traffickers are caught.
At one point, Wilmot said, he booked 15 individuals in his jail for smuggling 300 pounds of meth. But the U.S. attorney would not charge them.
“So that’s what we’re dealing with, as well, is a lack of prosecution by the federal government because it doesn’t meet their threshold limits. Well, when you’re smuggling in hard narcotics, there shouldn’t be a threshold limit for the U.S. attorney’s office. They ought to do their job,” Wilmot said.
Along with the drug trade problem that Homeland Security is not addressing, there has also been an issue with individuals with potential terrorist ties being smuggled into the U.S.
“We’ve had over 140 different countries smuggled into Yuma sector alone this last fiscal year. Seventeen countries where special interests that have terrorist ties,” Wilmot said.
The sheriff said he has seen migrants with documentation from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, along with many from South American countries.
“So the majority of what we’re seeing here is Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, Nicaragua, India, Chile, Peru, Uzbekistan — those are the top major countries that are coming through right now. It’s not Mexico. This is from other countries, and those are all Title 8 countries where those countries won’t take them back,” Wilmot said.
Just in the past year, there have been several incidents of potential terrorists caught at the border. At the end of December 2021, a man with “potential terrorist” ties and connections to “Yemeni subjects of interest,” was caught in Yuma, KSAZ-TV reported. In the spring of 2021, two Yemeni men who were on a terror watchlist were arrested at the border, as Reuters reported.
Though these potential terrorists were caught, Wilmot estimated that for every one apprehension at the border, there are about three or more who are not caught. These are dangerous statistics in light of the fact that some with possible terrorist ties are coming across the border.
Border Patrol unfortunately simply cannot deal with many of these issues since they do not have the manpower they need.
Wilmot pointed out that much of this goes back to federal government officials not doing their job or giving Border Patrol the necessary resources.
Mayorkas has said he will take care of things on the border, but Wilmot said that he is not listening to the border sheriffs and is hamstringing Border Patrol.
“We gave Mayorkas a 16-point plan of success when he first was appointed. All the border sheriffs sat down with him in Texas and gave him that plan. What’s concerning to us is, last time we talked to him, which was I believe within the last month, he forgot he even had that plan, never even looked at it,” Wilmot said. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t have a plan. They say they do. But obviously, whatever plan that he has, if it’s for border insecurity, he’s excelling.”
As the border crisis affects not just border states, but the entire country, Wilmot is urging officials to take action and give law enforcement what they need. And he urged citizens to push their representatives and senators to rise to the challenge.
“We need everybody — if you want to help us on the border and secure our border — we need you to get on the phone, share this information with your constituents and just light up the phone lines in Washington, D.C.,” Wilmot said. “Tell them to quit their political rhetoric and get politics out of public safety. Do their job.”
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