Fri, Sep 15, 2023 2:59 PM
By Cole Lauterbach, The Center Square
Counties in Southern Arizona have seen a sudden influx of busloads filled with processed asylum-seeking immigrants released into towns, and local officials are calling for answers.
County sheriffs began alerting the public this week to the increased number of migrant releases, which indicate a surge of immigrants seeking entry into the U.S. larger than federal facilities and local nonprofits can contain.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels first announced the arrival of the buses on Sept. 13 and held a news conference the following day. He said his county has made 2,362 arrests of migrants in the last 18 months.
"We deal with 'gotaways,' the fight-and-flight, those who don't want to give up," Dannels said Thursday. "Out of those 2,362, three-hundred-and-forty-four included 'failure to yield' which are pursuits. Another 409 were under the new law for smuggling and were arrested for Class 2 felonies."
Dannels said a popular misconception is that much of the crime in border counties such as Cochise are due to people coming up from Mexico. He said a considerable amount of the crime his deputies are responding to is from migrants and others already in the country.
"Out of the 2,362, one-hundred thirty-six are foreign-born or illegally in this country," he said. "What should tell me and tell you is that people are coming down to Cochise County from all over the United States ages 13 to 72 to commit international crime in Cochise County."
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials did not respond to a request for comment. The agency told NBC News that the Tucson sector is now apprehending 2,000 illegal foreign nationals per day and releasing up to 200 near Nogales daily. Multiple news outlets are reporting federal officers releasing large groups of migrants near San Diego, California, as well.
Official federal immigration data doesn't include the "gotaway" figures Dannels mentioned in his news conference. Data shared with The Center Square by a border agent requesting anonymity based on fear of career reprisal shows nearly 1.6 million illegal foreign nationals are known by CBP to have made their way into the country and evaded apprehension since January 2021.
Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb posted a video to X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday noting the rate at which federal authorities are releasing migrants into his area.
"There has been a total of 274 illegals released just today in the communities across the southern border in Arizona, including in my county," Lamb said. "I'm fed up with it. I think you, the American people, are fed up with this administration's inability to control the border."
Members of Arizona's federal delegation criticized the news of increased local releases.
"Street releases like those happening in AZ this week put an immense strain on our local communities — limiting resources and threatening the safety of AZ families and migrants," U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said in a statement Thursday.
Gov. Katie Hobbs joined Sinema in calling for the Biden administration to act.
"My administration has worked tirelessly to support border communities, stem the flow of drugs and human trafficking, and keep our neighborhoods safe," she said. "But as it stands today, Arizona is being overwhelmed. I'm calling on Congress and the Biden administration to come together immediately to deliver much needed border security to the State of Arizona."