Speech/Annual Sheriff Association 2016
Every sheriff and every rancher who has experience on our Southern border can tell you what it is like to have criminals from foreign countries invade our space. For sheriffs, these criminals threaten public safety; for the ranchers, the threat is personal safety, and the effects on their livelihoods. It is a protection that all Americans are afforded under the “Guarantee Clause” of the United States Constitution, but it is violated everyday along our border.
I think sometimes people like me who own two ranches with a total of 7 miles along our Southern border view the border as the last line of defense, as DHS claims in their budget document. But a friend of mine, who is a detective in Macon County Illinois, was visiting our ranch, and we were standing on the porch of our ranch house looking at the border fence 300 yards away, and he says, “You know, that fence isn’t the last line of defense. Decatur, Illinois is the last line of defense”. He continued, “I know what you’re thinking, but when that drug mule comes over that fence and crosses your ranch and goes unapprehended, the last line of defense is every law enforcement officer who arrests a drug dealer in their jurisdiction”. I still remember he had a bit of a smile on his face like—you didn’t really think about it like that did you?
But he’s right. In Arizona we try to hold the line, but you cannot hold the line with a broken system. So the drug war moves to the interior of the country. When a drug mule circumvents law enforcement on the border it becomes someone else’s problem in another jurisdiction. The criminal activity that follows blends into the local crime statistics, no longer associated with enforcement failures on our border.
That conversation made me realize that sometimes, we think too narrowly. We react to the immediate threat in front of us. So now when I discuss this issue I approach it differently. Think to yourself, how many have had a family member or friend die from drugs? How many have had a person they care about end up in jail because of drugs? How many have seen a family ripped apart because of drugs? How many have lost their homes or marriage because of drugs? Almost everyone in any audience can answer yes to one of these questions, meaning we are failing to protect our children, our families, and our communities. We are more concerned about the threat from ISIS than the threat of the Mexican cartels and Central American gangs operating on a daily basis in every community across this country.
The total number of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001-2014 was 6,830. For the same time period, the total number of Americans who suffered drug related deaths was just short of 500,000. These are different threats, but one produces much higher fatalities on our own soil. Drug trafficking is a serious national security threat yet many simply group it together with immigration. Border security is not an immigration problem—it is an enforcement and security problem.
ISIS, the Taliban, Al Qaeda are identified as international terrorist groups, so tell me the difference between an international terrorist group and an international criminal organization like the Sinaloa Cartel or MS-13.
I can tell you, pretty much it is the motivation behind their actions, but the consequences from both are similar and deadly. Tell me which type of organization your child should fear the most: the one that is already here, that has infiltrated our schools, or the one that is 10,000 miles away?
International criminal organizations are already UNDERMINING this country. They are on our turf; they have claimed space in every community across this country. They are not in Afghanistan, they are in Atlanta; they are not in Syria, they are in Chicago; they are not in Yemen, they are in Los Angeles. They are here, now. They have already crossed our borders, and they are responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. citizens each year through drug overdoses and violence.
In 2005 drug induced deaths surpassed deaths by firearms. In 2009 drug induced deaths surpassed deaths by motor vehicles.
It is estimated by the DEA that as much as 90% of those drugs are coming across our Southern border.
That is not a secure border
Drug trafficking and the violence and death that come with it are undermining the health and safety of every American.
When a 15 year old girl dies from a heroin overdose in Minneapolis, her parents are not thinking about the security of our Southern border—But they should be. When I respond to a detail in Decatur, Illinois and it involves a drug overdose, usually heroin, I always wonder if the heroin came across our ranch.
It was never personal before, now it is. Drug trafficking and the cartels are a national threat enjoying significant success, yet we never hear about extending the war on terror to the cartels themselves.
Terror is defined as a “strong feeling of fear,” if citizens do not fear the cartel, their reach, or the gangs that carry out their violence, then we are failing to deliver the message. There is another popular narrative: that it is our fault. People say that we create the demand. I agree, we share in the responsibility. There is no question about that. But the cartel preys on addiction, they ensure that there is a plentiful, cheap, and accessible supply and that it is quality product—it is marketing 101. They even provide free samples, called buttons as a way to develop new customers. The cartel’s actions are driven by money, power, and control.
It emboldens gangs as distributors and supports a broad range of criminal activity and violence. It is a ruthless business driven by people who do not care about the lives they steal or the families they DESTROY.
I believe without major changes our current process for securing our border will continue to fail. New York City alone has 36,000 sworn law enforcement officers and the Border Patrol has about half that number of agents covering almost 2,000 miles of our Southern border.
Break 18,500 agents down into three shifts of roughly 6,000; account for vacation, sick days, administration, agents at monitors, or observation posts, agents processing UDA’s, agents manning internal check points, agents attending training, and then account for the Depth in Defense Strategy engaged by Border Patrol, and it becomes clear it is not possible to protect our border adequately given the resources, assets and strategy we have today. And if you spend much time on the Border, you quickly learn these numbers are not accurate due to understaffing, so in reality you have less manpower than what is allocated for in the DHS budget.
This is not an indictment of hundreds of border patrol agents who are committed to protecting our borders, it is a reflection of failing to adapt to changing circumstances, a lack of political will, and expectation to be politically correct, and a system that was never designed to handle the number of unaccompanied minors or the amount of drugs that cross our border.
Let me share one perspective on this from our experience on one of our ranches. We capture hundreds of images of criminals on cameras coming across our ranch. They go north and they return south on a regular basis.
We see some of the same individuals so often we have given them names. When we no longer see them, we speculate about what happened to them. The problem is that Border Patrol metrics can only tell you how many apprehensions and seizures they make each year. They cannot tell you how many people or drugs actually cross our property or the border—they only know what they catch and sometimes what they miss. This is not only a problem for border patrol, it is the nature of criminal activity, but we must be honest about what is happening, and we must correct it.
When a Cochise County deputy made a traffic stop and the driver had no license and he was an undocumented alien, or UDA, the deputy was told by Border Patrol to drop the driver at the local McDonald’s and let him call a friend to pick him up.
When a UDA was arrested in Macon County for an alleged rape and ICE refused to detain him, he posted $10,000 bond in cash and was never seen again. When pick up trucks with hundreds of pounds of drugs drive through holes chopped sawed into our border fence, we must admit we are not ADEQUATELY prepared. When we catch and release thousands of people crossing our borders illegally and we hand them NTA’s, we are essentially handing them a free visa. When we have sanctuary cities that defy federal laws and allow criminals to remain at large what message are we sending our own citizens?
These are serious questions that we need to ask and to deal with as a nation, not only as border states.
Most of you in this room have spent your lives in law enforcement. I have not, but I am privileged to have had the opportunity to work for 4 great sheriffs and to continue to work for 2 while remaining a sworn auxiliary deputy in Illinois. So I cannot share with you anything about law enforcement you do not already know. But what I can share with you are experiences that I have had traveling to over 140 countries and spending almost a billion dollars in countries where none of us would want to live and why that is important to our message.
The one surprise I have had over the past 4 years as an auxiliary deputy is seeing the extent of poverty and drug use that exists in this country. But even with everything I have witnessed, we live in a country much greater than any other.
I have worked on addressing poverty and hunger in over 80 countries, many in conflict or post-conflict areas. We have been involved in addressing human trafficking, forced migrant labor, refugees, negotiating peace with rebels and democracy building.
Most people are looking to solve these problems from within that particular sector. This is where they fail.
There is one underpinning element of society that must be present and it must be vigilant:
Rule of Law.
Few Americans have faced circumstances where they would truly understand the significance of rule of law.
I learned it when I was arrested in Bosnia in 1997. I now understand what it means to be unlawfully detained, to have no rights at the hands of corrupt police and no one to turn to for help.
I learned it when under house arrest in Congo for meeting with rebels.
i experienced it at gunpoint in southern Ethiopia and in the Central African Republic by soldiers who were drunk or high.
There was no 9-1-1 to call. It is a lesson every American needs to experience.
We work extensively in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; it is referred to as the rape capital of the world.You can have someone killed for $50. You cannot safely travel on the primary roads. Life expectancy is less than 50 years. Mortality rates for children under 5 years old is 75%. I would estimate that close to 90% of the population is living in extreme poverty in a country where there is no such thing as a social safety net. The per capita gross national product of DRC is $160 per year, in a country that could be one of the richest in the world.
The World Bank would have many reasons why these statistics are what they are; I have one.
No Rule of Law.
I use this example because we are a nation of laws. It is what makes America great. It is what separates the United States from countries like Congo. It is what has allowed the wealth of this country to be created. So in a country based on laws, how would a secure border be defined? Here is how my friend Sylvia Longmire put it:
“Border security is the act of denying our enemies the means to enter the United States to do us harm. This is achieved by identifying and prioritizing border crossers based on the level of threat they pose to our national security, and focusing our resources on either preventing their initial entry or apprehending them before they can commit criminal or violent acts on U.S. soil.”
We have failed by definition and by statistics. Our strategy is failing and our actions are failing. We have failed the thousands of U.S. citizens who have died at the hands of the Cartel.
But it doesn’t stop there—corruption, violence, gang affiliations, and drug addiction are all cancers that are a result of our border policy. Cancers grow and spread. The criminal element crossing our border is a cancer, we must stop it, we are not yet even controlling it.
Here is what we are up against. Many years ago, I interviewed a young man from El Salvador who had been pushed off the death train in Oaxaca, Mexico because he could not pay the gang who controlled the train. He had to have his leg amputated. His blood stained clothes were still in a pile by his bed as I spoke to him. I asked him how he was going to get home. Leaning on homemade crutches, he told me that he was still going north, to the United States. We need to understand that to many, their fear and desperation at staying home far outweighs the risk of death they face by trying to cross our border. We can try to ignore this, but then we will never solve the problem. I’m less concerned about an honest person fleeing violence and trying to provide for their family. This person is breaking a law when they cross our border and he or she must be held accountable, but we are a nation that is built not only on laws but on humanitarian principles, and this creates a dilemma for law enforcement. But the cartel have now learned how to prey on this group of people; the crime now becomes more serious. This person is a criminal by hauling drugs in exchange for passage across our border. The cartel will exploit every opportunity and every person they can.
The other example I want to provide is one I experienced last August.
I entered a maximum security prison in El Salvador and spoke with two of the highest ranking MS13 gang leaders in the country. Both were in prison serving 160 year sentences. These are bad guys. But they are smooth, they have clever tactics and they are well organized. When I left the prison that day you would have thought these two killers believed that MS 13 was the gang with morals and a conscience. Later that day I met with 17 gang members, all under 21, the youngest was 15. They conveyed the same air of confidence. When I asked the 21 year old leader where he thought he would be in three years, he calmly responded, “the cemetery”. He almost said it with pride.
We have desperate people fleeing violence at home that are willing to die crossing our border and we have hardcore organized criminals who will stop at nothing to gain an edge on a rival gang.
there are reasons this is happening. Mexico has over 50 percent of its people living in extreme poverty. Honduras and Guatemala share the title for the highest per capita murder rate in the world. El Salvador is in a crisis, the police are as corrupt as the gangs are dangerous.
As long as we allow people from other countries to cross our border, they will continue to come. Our inability to secure our border is adding to a humanitarian crisis in all of these countries—including our own.
Our lack of control allows countries of origin to disregard their responsibilities, and it turns streets in Chicago and Los Angeles into killing fields driven by drugs.
This problem has become larger than what any sheriff can solve. We do not have the staff, financial resources, or jail space to keep fighting a battle of this magnitude. The federal government must make a commitment to change their approach. They must recognize the failure of securing our Southern border is responsible for the deaths of thousands of U.S. citizens.
It isn’t one adjustment; it is a multitude of changes. It requires a different command structure. It involves different tactics and different strategies. It also requires a different partnership with Mexico, one that cannot be driven by convenience, but by mutually agreeable goals.
Whether we like it or not, we must engage in a more meaningful way with countries of origin. And finally, we need to identify and hold accountable the Cartels for attacking our sovereignty.
The Cartels attack our freedom, our safety, our authority, and our Rule of Law. They do it from Burke County in North Dakota to Webb County in Texas and from Montgomery County in Pennsylvania to Marin County in California.
There is no real estate in this country that the Cartel does not touch. Therefore, we must change our message.
We must make Americans understand the depth and seriousness of this fight. The failure at our border affects all Americans. If we do not take this threat as seriously as it truly is, then we will continue to give up ground to criminals that will never stop.
The number of Americans dying from illegal drugs will continue to climb and criminal activity will follow.
This is not about politicians who provide simplistic ideas that will do nothing to solve the problem. It comes down to law enforcement telling the story, connecting the cartels, the gangs, the drugs, and the violence; explaining the sources of the death on our streets.
And we must build a constituency that demands a completely different commitment to stop international criminal organizations from operating on soil that is not theirs—it is ours.
The border is no longer the last line of defense. It is the sheriffs’ offices across this country, the municipal police departments in every city and town and the prosecutors who will not bend. Together we are a strong voice.
Tell this story in a way that it matters to each person in your community. Demand accountability from the federal government. We cannot retreat from that which we all took an oath to defend.
I want to express my appreciation to Sheriff Schneider and Sheriff Dannels for having the faith in me to participate in their mission in Macon and Cochise counties.
And to Sheriff Wilmot for allowing me the privilege to talk with you today. Remember, you are the last line of defense—America needs you.