Sheriff: Border Fence Cut Crime by 91 Percent in Arizona City
Yuma sheriff blasts out-of-touch politicians after years of patrolling U.S.–Mexico borde
An Arizona sheriff, who has spent decades battling crime in the city of Yuma, has reported a huge 91 percent drop in crime after a fence was erected along the U.S.–Mexico border, drastically cutting illegal crossings.
All along the southwest border, sheriff’s departments are left to deal with the consequences of cross-border crime, that eventually spread beyond the border.
According to ex-Marine and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot, sheriffs need a bigger say during border security discussions if the country hopes to get a grip on illegal alien crime.
“We all too often see interviews in Washington [with] mayors and governors but, no offense, they are not the ones that are down here on the border,” Wilmot said during an interview.
“They are not the ones that are investigating the crimes.
"They are not the ones out here when it’s 120 degrees, processing a crime scene where 14 people were left to die in the desert.”
According to the Epoch Times, Wilmot has witnessed it all in his 30-plus years with the sheriff’s department.
He knows a vulture will peck a human body down to nothing but bone because he has seen it.
He knows bandits follow the smugglers over the border and rape the women before running back to Mexico because he is left with the victims.
He knows the cartels will commit any crime to get drugs and humans across the border.
Yuma County is 5,522 square miles—larger than the state of Connecticut—and it shares 126 miles of border with Mexico. California and its Imperial Sand Dunes are just a mirage away on the western border beyond the Colorado River.
The Yuma Border Patrol Sector used to be the worst in the country for illegal crossings until it became a poster-child for the effectiveness of a border fence.
In 2005, before the fence, more than 2,700 vehicles crossed the Colorado River and open deserts, loaded with illegal immigrants and drugs, according to Border Patrol numbers.
Apprehensions steadily increased to more than 138,000 in fiscal 2005.
“Yuma battled entrenched smuggling groups for control of the border,” said Border Patrol in a video.
“Mass incursions often left agents outnumbered 50 to 1. Agents were assaulted with rocks and weapons daily.”
Following the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Yuma tripled manpower and added mobile surveillance, as well as fencing and vehicle barriers.
Yuma went from having 5.2 miles of fencing to 63 miles, and subsequently saw an almost 95 percent decrease in border apprehensions by 2009, when Border Patrol made about 7,000 arrests.
Ancillary Crime Down 91 Percent
It also directly affected what the sheriff’s department had to deal with.
“We were able to reduce [ancillary crimes] by 91 percent,” Wilmot said.
“The deaths in the desert, the rapes, the robberies, the homicides, the burglaries, the thefts.”
But the fence was only one part of the equation, said Capt. Eben Bratcher.
The other part, under Operation Streamline, was 100 percent prosecution of illegal border crossers.
“If you did try to cross and you got caught, you were held accountable. There were consequences,” Bratcher said.
“So the combination, the fence slowed them down, but they are going to find a way over it, under it, through it, whatever. But the real issue was when you got caught, you went to jail. It stopped.”
Bratcher said that before the fence and Operation Streamline, the area was out of control.
“My patrol guys would be out there, and we’re trying to do our primary job, which is community safety and investigating crimes, and we would encounter people who were being smuggled or sneaking across every night,” he said.
“If you tried to pull over a van that had the windows spray-painted black, you were absolutely ensured that there was going to be a vehicle pursuit coming because they would just take off, and over and over and over again we experienced that.
"Several horrible crashes, multiple people dying—and not just the people that were smuggling and being smuggled—but innocent people who were trying to live here were impacted hugely by that kind of activity.
"Operation Streamline shut all that off for us.”
However, during the Obama administration, Operation Streamline was curtailed and the 100 percent prosecution policy was halted.
“When they did away with that, they [started] coming again, and the numbers that are coming through Yuma are way back up—not where they were, but it is disturbing to see the trend increasing again and the tactics changed again, too,” Bratcher said.
“When you take away the prosecution, rather than trying to sneak through, now they just walk across and give themselves up.”
Border Patrol in Yuma apprehended more than 26,000 illegal aliens in fiscal 2018.
Although the numbers pale in comparison to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas (more than 162,000 apprehensions for the same period), it is still “maddening” to Bratcher that his community suffered due to Obama-era policies.
“When they put their own political agenda above the quality of life of American citizens and Yuma citizens, what is their motivation? It makes you question that,” he said.
During the Obama era, Wilmot was forced to take matters into his own hands.
“It got to the point where, because the feds would not prosecute those drug smugglers backpacking marijuana across, I had to deputize federal officers so they could actually take those cases to our County attorney and charge them with a state crime—and it was a 100 percent prosecutable case,” Wilmot said.
Wilmot said the U.S. attorney would refuse those cases, so prior to being deputized by the sheriff, the federal officers had no choice but to release the smugglers.
“That’s when we saw an uptick in drug smuggling, especially marijuana,” he said.
“The individuals would come across, the U.S. attorney’s office would not charge them, the dope was seized, they would cut them loose, and it was a revolving door.
"They just kept coming back, coming back, coming back.”
But prosecuting on a state or county level, instead of federal, came with a hefty price tag.
“It ended up costing sheriffs in Arizona about $30 million to house these individuals that had committed crimes [and] were here illegally in this country, smuggling in heroin, dope, marijuana, cocaine,” Wilmot said.
“When I’ve got 115 [drug] backpackers in here—it’s $130 a day for us for housing an inmate—well, they’re in here for 118 [days] to a little bit longer, on average. And then the medical cost, we have to [bear] that, too.”
The State Criminal Alien Apprehension Program was designed to reimburse jails with federal dollars for housing illegal aliens, but Wilmot said he was only getting back about 5 cents to the dollar.
“So local taxpayers still had to pick up the rest of that burden.”
Wilmot said he has deputized Border Patrol agents, DEA agents, FBI agents, and Homeland Security Investigations agents.
He said he hasn’t needed to take such extraordinary measures since President Donald Trump took office, as the feds have stepped up again to prosecute criminal aliens and illegal border crossers.
“It was frustrating for us, and it was also frustrating for our federal partners that swore the same [oath] that we did to protect and serve and enforce the laws of our country,” Wilmot said.
“And to see them hamstrung by politics … and that’s why I said, you can’t mix politics with public safety at all, period. It just shouldn’t happen. Unfortunately, it still does and we see it today.”
In April, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a return to 100 percent prosecution of all adult illegal border crossers.
After an outcry over adults and children being separated as a consequence of prosecution, Trump issued an executive order on June 20 to halt the separations but continue prosecuting as practicable.
In response, Customs and Border Protection ordered the temporary suspension of referrals for prosecutions for illegal entry for adults who are traveling with children, while the agency worked out a process with the Justice Department to maintain family unity while enforcing prosecution efforts.
“The executive order continues the zero-tolerance policy, which means there are no categories of people exempt from our laws, though family unity must be maintained, and child safety and welfare is paramount,” said a Customs and Border Protection statement on Sept. 11.
The law enforcement challenges caused by cross-border crime are relentless and ever-changing in Yuma County, but the sheriff is clear on the formula for border security:
“You have to have a tactical infrastructure, you have to have the boots on the ground, you have to have the electronic surveillance, and you have to have the prosecution side,” Sheriff Wilmot explains.
“What’s happening on the border ain’t coming across and staying here—it’s going throughout the United States.”