Written By: Sally Moore
The topic of illegal immigration has long been a sticky wicket, equally
embarrassing for both political parties and all administrations. An abbreviated
history of confusing immigration developments will hopefully give some context
to BTA and Our Action Place readers.
In 1986 Ronald Reagan thought he was dealing a death blow to the Herculean
immigration problem when he endorsed the 1986 Immigration Reform and
Control Act. President Reagan, speaking to his base, rationalized this controversial
“One time Amnesty” gift to illegal immigrants, by declaring the act would be
followed by bipartisan, definitive legislative action to fix porous borders, tighten
loopholes and penalize employers who turned a blind eye to cheap laborer’s
immigration status when hiring. Nothing substantive, of course, was ever
accomplished after the 1986 Amnesty Bill was passed.
Illegal immigration and accompanying smuggling problems persisted and
worsened while the intestinal fortitude in our nation’s capital to address the
problem head-on, remained predictably lacking. Along the way, public policy
often seemed designed to operate at cross purposes. For example, readers may
recall President George H.W. Bush set initiated the Drug War, beefing up U.S.
Customs Air Interdiction to discourage drug smuggling by aircraft and deploying
electronic tethered balloons to detect both human and drug smugglers.
Simultaneously, the Bush administration opened the opportunistic floodgates via
a carefully engineered North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.
President Obama during his campaign, promised to fix the broken immigration
system. However, when faced with congressional pushback, little was actually
achieved. In fact, deportations during the Obama years came at the highest rates
ever seen, to date. During his second term, through a series of executive orders Obama expanded the parameters of the controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program for illegal children who had lived in our country for many years.
In 2016 President Obama also expanded refugee numbers for the “Northern
Triangle,” a lump sum definition of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
According to a July 26, 2016 Reuters report, the Council of Foreign Relations has
consistently ranked these three countries amongst the most violent in the world.
A National Review article by Jack Crow published June 11, 2019 reported
acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan testified earlier in the
day before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the topic of asylum and
McAleenan explained that his department is hampered in its efforts to
deter illegal immigration by U.S. laws that allow asylum-seekers to remain
on U.S. soil under their own recognizance for months or even years while
awaiting a hearing that the vast majority of them simply skip.
“Out of those 7,000 cases, 90 % received final orders of removal in
absentia. 90 percent!” McAleenan told Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.),
referring to the results of a recent DHS pilot program that tracks family
units applying for asylum. 90% of those making asylum claims never
returned for their legal hearing.
Flying mostly under the radar, under Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama
Administration also expanded “Prosecutorial Discretion” for the courts. Citing
overburdened immigration courts, they moved to further decriminalize illegal
entry and required law enforcement to drop cases on illegal immigrants who have
lived,undetected, in the US for more than a year, to avoid deportation.
Word, of such loopholes, of course, travels fast and Central Americans gambled
they could either come and claim asylum for their family and never show for the
hearing… or slip across into the United States, evade detection for a year and
never face a deportation hearing.
Illegal Immigration is driven by many complicated factors. Political upheaval
matched with a bad economy and prospects South of the border is countered by a
good economy with the siren song of promised entitlements to the North. The
dichotomy is, and always will be, highly motivational.
Political Asylum is offered in the U.S. for those foreign nationals fleeing a defined
set of circumstances such as political or religious persecution. While pleas for
Asylum status must legally meet a strict set of legal boundaries. It is difficult to
At the local level, law enforcement is left to deal with the effects of leaky
immigration laws and the lack of an actual barrier. Santa Cruz County, in and
around the Deconcini Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona has a very different
experience than reported by the guardians of Cochise County just 85 miles to the
East, as reported on in a previous interview.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff, Tony Estrada stated in a recent telephone interview,
“I know a lot of people are on the border are inundated with illegals. We are not
seeing any significant activity hike in illegal immigration.”
While he admits the chessboard of activity is always changing, currently Santa
Cruz County is experiencing an enormous wave of drug smuggling. “This is a major
corridor,” Sheriff Estrada explains. “At the POE here, we are seeing lots of drugs
and illegal substances.”
Sheriff Estrada shared what his department had intercepted at the Deconcini
Port of Entry in just two days prior to the interview in late June, 2019. The
intercepted weekend tally read like a toxic grocery list:
*A 23 year-old man from Tucson carrying 11 packages of heroin, and 1 package of
*A 24 year-old Maricopa County woman had been apprehended at the POE with 7
kilos of cocaine, 7 kilos of heroin, and 175 grams of fentanyl.
*A woman from Sonora smuggling 1 Kilo of cocaine, seized.*A 34 year-old Tucson man with 22.4 Kilos of heroin, and 11.4 kilos of cocaine.
*A 34 year old Phoenix man was stopped with 75 lbs of meth.
“We see this on a regular basis,” reported an unruffled Estrada. “And, that’s not
all of it. Some go and are processed in Federal Court in Tucson and I don’t have
“Immigration problems absolutely pale in comparison to the drug smuggling.” He
has seen an estimated 5% bump in illegal immigration in his county versus a 50%
hike in drug smuggling. “It is a crisis.”
With 52 years in law enforcement to his credit, Sheriff Estrada has a unique
perspective on all the current immigration and border hoopla. He emigrated with
his family from Mexico as a toddler. “To seek a better life.”
“The caravans,” he says that we are seeing on the news, “are the latest
challenge.” Estrada observed, “America could have invested in Central America
and Mexico. Instead, we ignored them…and now, we are paying for it.”
Tempering his geo-political views regarding the current wave of caravan
members with compassion, he adds, “I will always defend their human rights,” he
says. “But, immigration is not my concern here. I may feel for their
situation…coming with no paper trail, no visa.” His voice trails off. This is a
convoluted problem that is a hard discussion for anyone to finish.
Estrada heaved a sigh that silently proclaims he’s seen it all. “Everyone,” he emphasized, “should come legally. Everyone needs to follow the law.”