“It is frustrating to see these mayors complain about a miniscule number of people being dropped off just one time, especially when those communities have so many resources available.”
That is the sentiment of Gila Bend Mayor Chris Riggs, who declared a state of emergency in March 2021 in response to what he called “the dumping” by U.S. Border Patrol agents of several asylum-seeking immigrant families in the middle of his town.
The media attention Riggs garnered for the humanitarian crisis his town of 1,900 residents last year prompted U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to remove Gila Bend from their list of dumping grounds.
“If I had not gone public we could have been looking at as many immigrants being dropped here as we have residents,” he told Arizona Daily Independent.
But Gila Bend continues to reel from problems connected with illegal immigration, human smuggling, and drug trafficking. In fact, some residents say the federal officials have exacted a sort of revenge on the town by allowing it to be overrun by the Cartel.
“Cartel crimes are through the roof and the Cartel has taken over this area,” Riggs admits, adding that outdoor evening activities have become risky and many people don’t leave home without a gun. “We’ve seen a tremendous uptick in crimes, from petty thefts to property crimes to serious acts of violence. We even have kids who can’t go to school now because their parents are being threatened by the Cartel.”
Gila Bend, which sits along Interstate 8 between Eloy and Yuma, was always an odd choice for USBP’s dumping program. It had no urgent care or hospital, no homeless shelter, and no operating hotel. What the town had, however, is a once-a-day Greyhound bus stop.
And that seems to be all CBP and USBP cared about at the time.
Riggs, a former sheriff’s deputy, believes if he had not pushed back on USBP it is possible Gila Bend could have been overrun last year just as the city of Yuma and surrounding areas have experienced throughout 2022. But that is not much solace in light of the problems the town faces now.
The mayor puts the blame for the dire situation in Gila Bend squarely on the White House and the immigration policies of elected Democratic lawmakers in Arizona and Washington D.C. He says a big part of the problem is that the Biden administration has done nothing the last 18 months to address the “gotaways” seen each day walking in the area.
Gotaways is the name coined for illegal immigrants who U.S. officials know crossed into the country without being encountered by law enforcement officers. Which means there is no record of their presence and no opportunity to conduct a background check.
From Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 31, 2021, CBP reported nearly 390,000 confirmed gotaways against 1,734,686 encounters, or about 22 gotaways for each 100 encounters. The rate of gotaways appears to have gone up this year to roughly 28 for each 100 encounters, according to CBP data.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has admitted there is no way to estimate how many unconfirmed gotaways are making in across the southwest border.
Riggs conservatively estimates 5,000 gotaways in the Gila Bend area since he first spoke out in March 2021. Many of those used the Barry Goldwater Airforce Range and surrounding areas south of town where the Cartel appears “to have almost unrestricted control.”
The crime problems and community outrage have become so bad in Gila Bend that the town council is looking to utilize a private security company to help with protection. This is being considered, Riggs said, because Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has made no effort to proactively address the situation.
In fact, Riggs says he has never had a conversation with Penzone, a Democrat, or the sheriff’s top brass about the uptick in serious and violent crimes and the large scale drug trafficking in the area.
“I have no clue as to what their thought process is to address the Cartel problem,” he said.
The stark contrast between the reaction to about 50 migrants being dumped in his rural town last year and the transport of a few dozen immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts is not lost on Riggs, whose community has a per capita annual income of less than $23,000.
“The reaction to Martha’s Vineyard suggests it is good to be a rich white person in America because you won’t have to deal such problems,” Riggs said. “It says ‘if you live in an impoverished, mixed community go ahead, it’s okay to dump whoever you want there.’ It’s exasperating.”
The fact Gila Bend residents were on their own last year to provide food, water, and makeshift housing in a town park for the 50 or so migrants dumped off by USBP to wait for the next bus came is also not lost on Riggs.
He notes that at Martha’s Vineyard, 150 National Guard troops were assigned to help with 50 immigrants.
“And you have Time Magazine, the New York Times, and the Washington Post throwing a fit about the inconvenience on the residents there,” Riggs said. “The hypocrisy makes me very angry.”
READ ABOOUT A RECENT DRUG ARREST NEAR GILA BEND HERE