Republican Arizona lawmakers are demanding answers from Attorney General Eric Holder about whether he ordered U.S. attorneys in southern Arizona to stop prosecuting illegal immigrants who are first-time offenders in addition to repeat offenders who do not have criminal histories.
After Yuma County Sheriff Paul Leon Wilmot informed lawmakers that the Department of Justice will no longer prosecute nearly every illegal immigrant who is detained in southern Arizona, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) wrote Holder at the end of August about the “major shift in practice” that compromises the safety of U.S. citizens and national security and undermines immigration law “by executive fiat.”
On Monday, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who were both members of the Gang of Eight that pushed the Senate’s comprehensive amnesty bill, also told Holder that it seems like this would be “an inopportune time to potentially be removing tools from the border security toolbox,” since migrants from Central America are still flooding across the border.
The Senators noted that the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office “recently related that they had been informed that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona will cease prosecuting those apprehended crossing the border illegally for the first time” and “suggested that only those undocumented aliens with adverse immigration histories or criminal convictions, as well as those apprehended while involved with criminal activity or presenting a danger to the public, will be prosecuted.”
In a letter to Gosar, Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot said the “disturbing” new guidance was “of great concern, because it undermines the mission of local law enforcement agencies throughout Yuma County for 100% prosecution of those entering the United States illegally in order to curb reentries” and forces the county to adopt “practices that are not working in other sectors.”
“From an outside perspective, this new guidance gives a strong impression that its sole purpose is to direct the UDA [undocumented aliens] traffic and their criminal activity back to Yuma County,” Wilmot wrote. “This practice undermines everything that we have worked hard to achieve over the years for the citizens of Yuma County.”
Wilmot said that, “at one time, Yuma County had the worst record in the United States for illegal entries by UDAs,” and the “community suffered numerous ancillary crimes.” He said since the implementation of Operation Streamline in December 2006, Yuma County “has attained a reputation of ‘zero tolerance’ enforcement for UDAs and their criminal activities.”
Citing “an interview of a defendant from a recent smuggling case,” Wilmot said the subject “told investigators that since he has been in jail, he has talked with several other inmates,” and “he informed the investigators that the inmates were talking about how hard we (Yuma Sector) have been coming down on alien smuggling in our area.”
“He stated that they and their partners are moving to other areas due to our hard stance on smuggling and the fact that if you are caught in Yuma, you will go to jail,” Wilmot wrote.
Flake and McCain noted that Operation Streamline–and its “zero tolerance” approach–has made Yuma County’s border with Mexico “one of the most secure in the nation,” after it was one of the most porous.
“As you are aware, the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector has long grappled with the crossing of undocumented aliens and has seen illegal traffic decline precipitously from the early 2000s to the present,” the Senators wrote Holder. “The recent conditions in the Yuma Sector represent one of the few instances approaching a success with respect to border security.”
They asked Holder whether the guidance about first-time offenders has actually been issued and whether the current border crisis was considered in revisions to prosecutorial guidance.
“In considering revisions to prosecutorial guidance in southern Arizona, were current border security impacts considered as well as impacts to future illegal traffic levels and issues faced border-wide?” they asked.
Gosar said that this “dereliction will completely undermine the United States’ ‘zero tolerance’ policy established through Operation Streamline and flies in the face of years of work conducted by federal, state, and local law enforcement to secure our communities and our borders.”
“The Administration acts to circumvent the law, Congress makes legitimate Congressional inquiries, and… silence. Nothing. Zilch,” he added. “I am sick and tired of this Administration–which promised to be the most transparent in history–constantly seeking to tilt the scales on our age-old systems of checks and balances. I will not stand for it, and I will continue to seek the answers the people deserve.”