Sessions Paints Picture of a Crisis on the Border and Tells Sheriffs, “We Got Your Back”

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to sheriffs on Wednesday, described the border as a region in crisis: a drug smuggling corridor where immigrants are criminals. And he promised law enforcement authorities that the president has their backs."We have a crisis here," said Sessions. "We know it. The president knows it and we're determined to do something about it... You might even say we've got a new sheriff in town." He rattled off a number of federal directives aimed at "restoring the rule-of-law."Sessions spoke here in Las Cruces, just north of the Texas border, during the spring meeting of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition with the Southwestern Border Sheriff's Coalition, which includes 31 sheriff's departments from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.The portrayal drew the ire of some of the sheriffs."I personally don't see a crisis," said Sheriff Oscar Carrillo of Culberson County in West Texas. "I see a difference of opinion with the administration. We're pretty safe here."Sessions' trip to the border comes as thousands of National Guard troops are being deployed to the border and construction begins on a 20-miles of steel bollard fencing - rebranded this week by federal authorities as President Trump's promised "wall" -- goes up in nearby Santa Teresa. On Thursday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is slated to visit the construction site.Sessions' visit comes as the Trump administration cracks down on illegal immigration. Critics say it fans fears of a border engulfed in turmoil, overrun by drug smugglers and hordes of undocumented immigrants coming across to seek protection in so-called sanctuary cities from San Francisco to Dallas to Philadelphia. In fact, the U.S side of the border is home to some of the safest communities in the country and illegal immigration is at an all-time low.According to government figures, the number of people arrested at the southwest border in fiscal year 2017, which ended Sept. 30, fell by 310,531, or about 25 percent compared with the previous year. That's the lowest number since 1971. Moreover, immigration from Mexico has been falling over the past 10 years. The number of border arrests dropped as soon as Trump took office, although in recent months apprehensions have begun to rise again as more minors and families have resumed the trek from violence-wracked Central American countries. Those rising numbers are "enough to make us concerned" as summer approaches, Sessions said. Sessions credits the increase in illegal crossings to "the Trump economy" and Congress' failure to fund the president's wall. The lack of congressional action, he said, sends "a message that we are not resolute" and is encouraging more illegal migration."The United States of America is not just an idea," Sessions said, adding that Americans have nothing to apologize for when taking a hardline against undocumented immigrants breaking the law. "It's a nation of laws."Some of the sheriffs interviewed took pains to couch their comments, carefully choosing their words as federal resources could be at stake.Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez said his department's most pressing priority is more resources."I'm on the border and I only have three deputies," he said. He questioned the need for a wall that would separate tiny Presidio from Ojinaga, Mexico. "We just cannot get enough money for local resources, but we have money for National Guard?""But he said he's got our backs," Dominguez said. "That was important to hear." "We don't all agree," said Sheriff Enrique "Kiki" Vigil in the New Mexico county of Doña Ana, which abuts Texas and Mexico. "But I don't see a crisis in this age, with so much technology that we can put out there to help us."Vigil acknowledged that communities along the border and across the country have drug problems, but said the administration needs to re-evaluate its priorities and focus on solutions to the opioid crisis, mental illness and school violence.He said within the sheriffs' coalition there's difference of opinion often marked by partisan divisions, but at the "end of the day, we come to an agreement to keep our communities safe."Clint McDonald, executive director of the Southwestern Sheriff Coalition and the Texas Border Sheriff Coalition, described his view of the border situation: "We don't have people killed. We do have an influx of people from Mexico coming and trampling over private lands. But they don't make the area unsafe because they leave quickly as they cross for jobs in other parts of the country. They don't stay on the border to work like they used to."He said Trump's wall and National Guard troops "are tools in the tool chest. We have to look at it from all aspects. The National Guard has been around (the border) at least since President George W. Bush, so this is nothing new."McDonald, a former sheriff in Terrell County, said, "I feel the border is the safest place you can be."Sheriff Harold W. Eavenson of National Sheriff's Association in Rockwall, added: "Build a wall where you can and use technology in other areas. It's really that simple,"Human rights advocates shadowed Session's visit, angry at what they say is the Trump administration's ongoing attempt at manufacturing a crisis to justify a hardline approach against undocumented immigrants as red bait for his political base. Protesters, numbering about 100, lined up in front of the hotel. One sign read: "Sessions you're not welcomed here" and "Hate is not welcome in my community."  Continue reading...

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