On Tuesday, after Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement changes, Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier stated that it “is in the national interest of the United States to prevent criminals and criminal organizations from destabilizing border security.”
Newly elected Sheriff Napier, like fellow border sheriffs, has been sought out by the national media to assess what impact, if any, the immigration enforcement changes will have on their departments. All along the southern border local law enforcement agencies had taken different approaches in dealing with the porous border the illegal drug and human smuggling.
In an appearance on the James T. Harris show, Napier discussed the recent media attention, and addressed the expansion of the Border Patrol ranks, the end of the catch-and-release” policy of the Obama administration, and his fellow sheriffs:
Harris: We are Pima County. We are right on the border. You are one of the sheriffs in the Border States. So this catch and release action, I’m sure that’s what Cavuto was asking you about. Are you going to have a problem with letting go of catch and release?
Napier: Well as you know James, whether or not they are caught and released is a federal decision. Not a local law enforcement decision. So, I certainly have some concerns from a public safety standpoint about catching and releasing people, especially people who have already committed a criminal act aside from the immigration issue in the United States. I think that is bad public policy and bad for public safety to know that someone has entered this country illegally, and then committed a crime in this country, and then to engage in catch and release just seems counter intuitive to me for public safety in Pima County. So, I do have some concerns with that. Again, it is under the federal umbrella there to decide. I think it is clear that President Trump and Secretary Kelly are going to take more proactive stance on immigration.
Harris: I agree and what I have been reading is that they are not looking to add anything new, but to enforce the laws that are on the books. For so many cities, during the last seven or eight years, those laws have been pretty much ignored. Is it going to be hard to do a 180 to enforce laws again?
Napier: I think there are challenges we have to come to grips with. There are capacity issues. Right now, there are probably about 1840 people in the Pima County jail and I only have space for about 2000. So, we don’t have a lot of excess capacity and that can get as high as 1900. It fluctuates daily based on the number of people that are incarcerated. So there is a problem there with where do you detain these people. A lot of this is going to incur on the federal side of law enforcement. I think the counties and local law enforcement will participate when there is criminal conduct in their respective jurisdictions that involve illegal immigrants. But a lot of the resources will be directed towards the federal side. They are talking about hiring many more agents and thousands more Border Patrol agents to shore up our efforts along the border. I welcome that because we know that bad actors are coming across the border every day.
Harris: How long would it take for the agencies to amp up like that? They are talking about hiring thousands of people. That takes training, time. When do you think these agencies will be up to the speed to where the President wants them to be?
Napier: Our country is a wonderful and amazing country. When we set our mind to doing something we have a great capacity to do that. Under traditional sense I would say it would take quite a long time. You have to vet the applicants. You don’t want to hire just anybody. So there has to be background checks and an application process; hiring processes to make sure you are hiring the right people. Then there has to be a training process, and for local law enforcement we like to think that takes about a year to a year and a half from the time that we commit to hiring somebody to the time they are autonomous and out there functioning at an acceptable level. So, about a year and a half for local law enforcement levels. The Trump administration could do it faster than that if they were inclined to do so. I believe we have amazing capacity to do those things when we set our mind to do so.
Harris: You said you were meeting with other sheriffs today?
Napier: I actually met with some other law enforcement leaders from the US Attorney’s office, the DEA; kind of an impromptu lunch meeting down there to kind of do a status check and a model. So we could all get together.
The border sheriffs and I communicate on a regular basis. That is the one blessing that Mr. Trump has; he has really strongly committed, long tenured border sheriffs here in southern Arizona. Between the four of us we have over 100 years of law enforcement experience. I’m encouraged that Secretary Kelly came down to southern Arizona to listen to us. I really think Mr. Trump needs to come down. He really needs to hear from us and see what the border looks like. See how it is different from Santa Cruz County and Cochise County and Pima County or over in Yuma County. It is really not a one size fits all mentality.
Harris: No it is not. We are already hearing some push back from some of the nations along the border who don’t want their traditional access cut off. I am seeing a lot of energy around construction of the wall and bringing rule of law back. Am I wrong in that?
Napier: No, I think you are right James. There is a lot of energy in Washington D.C. At the local level we are a little guarded because we don’t know how that energy will translate itself into implementation of policy at the local level. So there is long expanse from what happens in D.C. to how it trickles down into what might occur in Pima County.
I was encouraged when Secretary Kelly said a wall is an analogous thing. A wall in some places might be a traditional barrier. In other areas it might be technology. In other areas it might be human resources. In other areas it might be a blend of all of those approaches, because the border is such a vastly different area.
You mentioned a reservation. I don’t think they are going tolerate what we think of as a traditional wall. But they may tolerate technology and human resources, which would in effect, be analogous to a wall because it could be an impenetrable barrier to people travelling through the reservation and up the 85 and the I-8 corridor which is a major drug trafficking corridor.
Harris: Absolutely. It was exciting seeing you on Fox News. I hope Mr. Cavuto will continue to tap into you. You’ve already hit the ground running.
Napier: Well I promised the people of Pima County that I was going to work very hard for them. I have not had a day off since January 1. I will have a day off when it is time to have one off. I talked to the New York Times today. How they found me I have no idea.
Harris: Don’t talk to them anymore.
Napier: There is a lot of interest in southern Arizona. We are blessed to have great border sheriffs that have the ability to articulately address these issues from a point of a criminal justice perspective that is pretty knowledgeable.