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Sheriffs brief Arizona lawmakers on border crisis

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(The Center Square) – Arizona sheriffs briefed state lawmakers on the border crisis on Thursday afternoon as the state faces a problem typically attributed to the federal government.

In the 2024 fiscal year so far, there have been 131,893 migrant encounters recorded by United States Customs and Border Protection in Arizona, 12,029 of those came from the Yuma Sector.

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said, “Right now it’s the ugliest [he’s] ever seen it.”

“Until state, local, and federal start working together we’re in trouble,” he later added, taking a critical tone toward the Biden administration’s border policies.

He thanked the state government officials for helping with the costs of putting people behind bars, as well as helping with getting over 650 buses to transport migrants out of Cochise County, and a border operations center slated to open next month.

“We are losing so much institutional knowledge because they’re retiring,” Dannels said regarding the struggles of retaining border officers at different levels.

Robert Watkins, Operations Commander at the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, warned about the dangers of smugglers recruiting teenagers, pursuits, and other risks in his presentation.

Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot focused on the wide range of crimes he and his deputies face along the border.

“The cartels exploit the weaknesses,” he said.

“Arizona Department of Homeland Security, those folks that work for you and us, are doing a phenomenal job,” Wilmot said, also thanking the National Guard.

Wilmot also requested that Arizona push for the state to seek federal reimbursement for costs incurred with incarcerations and healthcare costs in his county. He also raised concerns about food safety, as crops can be ruined when people pass through them.

When asked by Rep. Marcelino Quiñonez, D-Phoenix, what specific actions sheriffs need from the Legislature, he mentioned continued support for Homeland Security as well as action against the cartels.

“We need to start hammering the cartels and their finances,” Wilmot said.

When asked by Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, whether the wall should be completed, Wilmot responded “absolutely.”

Arizona’s state government has played a larger role in recent months in the border crisis, as Gov. Katie Hobbs ordered National Guard troops to the Lukeville area following a port of entry closure in the Tucson Sector. Hobbs is also requesting funding for Operation SECURE in her state’s budget proposal, but Republicans want to see more information, The Center Square reported Wednesday.

“It’s encouraging to hear the governor speak out of this issue,” Senate President Warren Petersen said Wednesday.

“But we need your actions to match your words,” he said, directed at Gov. Katie Hobbs, criticizing her for vetoing certain border-related bills last legislative session.

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