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Crisis at our Borders: A Story of Dilemmas

July 18, 2023


By David Brand 
Law Enforcement Coordinator, Florida Sheriffs Association

 

Immigration is part of the American experience, built our great country, and allows us to thrive. However, unlawful border crossings threaten the sovereignty of the United States.

In 2023, due to the financial collapse in many Central American countries seasoned with corrupt or oppressive governments, illegal immigration reached a breaking point with people from not only Central America but from Communist China, Russia, Sudan, and over 100 other different countries flooding the southern border. This brought to light a series of long-standing dilemmas involving the need for immigration reform, political and social views, a needed labor force, and increased criminal behaviors within states not even located on the border. Sadly, Transnational Criminal Cartels exploited the efforts of many poor people who were simply looking for a better way of life by bringing in Fentanyl, other dangerous drugs, and exploiting this human suffering by turning women and children into sex slaves to be owned and sold as property.

 

Observations

My intent is to share with the reader my personal observations threaded with facts and commentary by others who have been directly impacted by this series of events.

My involvement with this crisis began in early April 2023 when, as a representative of the Florida Sheriffs Association, I participated in a series of meetings with Governor Ron DeSantis’ senior staff and State of Florida law enforcement officials. The governor was concerned with illegal aliens being transported to Florida, after crossing the Texas border, bringing large amounts of Fentanyl and Methamphetamine into our state.

At the same time, approximately 2,000 persons a month, beginning in October 2022 were making illegal maritime landings in Florida from countries in the Caribbean Basin. While maritime landings have occurred in the Florida Keys since the early 1960s, especially during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 as featured in the movie “Scarface,” the recent crossings completely overwhelmed the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office along with Monroe County social and medical services. In response, Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 23-03 ordering the National Guard and state law enforcement agencies to the Florida Keys to assist the sheriff, U.S. Border Protection agents, and the U.S. Coast Guard. 


Landing on Islamorada

 


Arrival in the Florida Keys

 

Fact-Finding

On April 14th, an organizational meeting was held at the Florida Sheriffs Association campus in Tallahassee. Representatives from the Executive Office of the Governor, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Florida National Guard, and the National Sheriffs Association were in attendance. At this meeting, a plan to deploy resources from Florida was outlined.

In late April, I was part of a small delegation of Florida officials that traveled to McAllen, Texas to meet with a coalition of Texas border sheriffs at their conference. Texas Governor Greg Abbot was present and updated the sheriffs on Operation Lone Star, to mitigate the unlawful crossings, that was in progress. The sheriffs described an ongoing scenario that resulted in overwhelming not only their own resources but the social services within their respective communities. While meeting with the Texas sheriffs, the Florida delegation offered to assist by providing training and technical assistance using Florida resources.


Texas Border Sheriffs Briefing

U.S. Border Protection Chiefs reported that they had recently seen an increase in immigrants from Vietnam, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela. They added that the governments of Cuba and Venezuela will not take immigrants back if they make it to the southern border. As a result, there is nowhere to deport them. Additionally, the Border Patrol agents are spending so much time apprehending and processing immigrants, there is no time for proactive investigations. In April 2023 they were averaging 5,000 entries a day at the Texas border.


U.S. Border Patrol Chiefs Briefing

In early May, I found myself flying out to Cochise County, Arizona on a fact-finding mission with state officials. Sheriff Mark Dannels, a well-known and popular figure, greeted us. Cochise County consists of 6,300 square miles with 83 miles of border with Mexico. Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army installation with a rich history going back to the calvary days, is also located in Cochise County.

The sheriff, and his staff, explained that part of their mitigation program involved operating hundreds of small hidden cameras along the border. However, they are battery operated and transmit only about 20-30 miles with no satellite uplink capability. Maintenance is required and they are periodically moved to other positions of concealment to prevent sabotage. They report the captured images to their partner law enforcement agencies.


Foot Trail by the Arizona Border

In a gross violation of human rights, immigrants must pay the cartel to cross over the land close to the U.S. border. Mexican landowners on the border must also pay the cartel a “tax’ or they will be forced to leave their land. The migrants are brought to a holding area by the cartel and held until there are no law enforcement officers in sight. They are then escorted to different pre-determined points of egress into the U.S. They have three attempts to cross over. If they fail, they are taken back and must pay the cartel again to bring them back to the holding area. Once at the border, which in some places is no more than three strands of barbed wire, they may be told that Phoenix is just on the other side of the mountain or New Jersey is only a five-day walk.

 


Arizona/Mexican Border – Only a Barbed Wire Fence at this Location

Sheriff Dannels, and his deputies that specialize in border enforcement, took us up in the Chiricahua Mountains. From there, I could see down into Mexico and a 16 foot-high metal fence that was built during the Obama administration. Going still higher, up to about 9.000 feet, I was right on the border where the 30 foot high fence, built by the Trump administration and stopped at the beginning of the Biden administration was. Where construction on the fence stopped, the contractors simply walked away leaving heavy equipment, trucks, and materials rusting in the sun. The 30 foot-high fence would have had lights and fiber optic cables laid in the ground that would alert the Border Patrol of any crossings.

 


Where Construction on the Arizona Fence Stopped

Using binoculars, I looked towards a high peak and saw a cartel spotter sitting under a tree watching us. I looked at him. He looked back with his binoculars much like the U.S. Marines describe how they mirror the Cuban army at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba. I had no way of knowing if he was angry, amused or just bored. I suspect the latter. He had seen it all before. We would leave. He would not.


Cartel Spotter on the Hill Crest

As all cops know, if you build a 30 foot fence, someone will build a 31 foot ladder. I saw where the rusted metal fence was smooth in places where the cartel would ladder up on the Mexican side and slide down a rope on the U.S. side. Gas welding torches are also used to cut through the bottom of the fence so migrants can scamper through. The cartel members will then prop the metal fence pieces back in place and use mud to conceal where it had been cut. If the migrants are caught, after everything they’ve been through, they will run and fight with the U.S. authorities. The local law enforcement officers’ only lawful authority is to detain them for a reasonable length of time needed to turn them over to the Border Patrol. Many of the aliens that are observed, and seen on the cameras, are men probably between the age of 18-40. Some wear camouflage, to avoid detection from aircraft, and carry backpacks. These are the “Mules” bringing in drugs and other contraband.


Arizona Border Fence

After returning, I, along with State of Florida law enforcement officials, met with the National Guard Lt. Colonel who commands the Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force training at Camp Blanding, Florida. The Colonel, and his command staff, were very gracious and provided a list of 166 different courses that they could deliver to law enforcement officers from any state to assist with mitigating this crisis.

In paraphrasing an email response from Senator Rick Scott on June 14th, his staff reported that there is definitely a crisis at the southwest border. Each year sets a new record of migrants attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border, from 526,901 Customs and Border Protection Enforcement actions in Fiscal Year 2017 to 2,766,582 in Fiscal Year 2022.

 

The Response

On May 16, Texas Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to selected governors asking for assistance with the border crisis. Immediately, on or about May 18th, Florida Governor DeSantis dispatched a Task Force consisting of personnel from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol, Fish and Wildlife Commission, and National Guard to assist and act as a force multiplier for the Texas Department of Public Safety.


Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agents Planning


FDLE Deploying

 

In early June, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Sheriff Mark Dannels hosted a Roundtable Summit in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Florida Sheriff Wayne Ivey, Brevard County, and Sheriff Grady Judd, Polk County, were also in attendance. Problems, issues, and strategies were discussed.

Sheriff Ivey stated that the only way we can stop this is to say “Enough is Enough!” He added that illegal immigration doesn’t just impact the border, it filters into every community in the country. In a 24-month period in Brevard County, there were 172 overdose deaths where fentanyl was a factor. Sheriff Grady Judd presented the results of a recent multi-agency human trafficking operation in Polk County where they rescued 24 potential victims, many of which were illegal immigrants from Cuba who were being victimized.  His deputies were also involved in a multi-state bust of a cartel operation that resulted in the seizure of enough fentanyl in his county to kill 2.7 million people. And, he added, we’re not even on the border.


Florida National Guard Troops on the Texas Border

 

 

Meanwhile, Back in Florida

According to U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Joe Berube, Key West Sector Chief of Intelligence, approximately 2,200 migrants a month were interdicted from October through December 2022.

The probable cause for fleeing the island seemed to be civil protests along with the damage from Hurricane Ian. In May, the interdictions dropped to around 250 a month. Based on available intelligence, the lack of materials to build boats had become scarce. The Coast Guard is predicting that this summer’s seasonal south winds may result in more sailboat construction with an increase in landings. However, given the new U.S. Immigration parole program that came into effect in January, many Cubans may try to come to the U.S. legally.

 


Cubans Run Aground in the Keys

 

As stated below, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay was very grateful for the assistance rendered by the multi-agency Task Force responding to the Keys.

 “The Florida Keys saw a spike in migrant arrivals several months ago that often required the Sheriff’s Office to respond as our federal law enforcement partners were typically not first on-scene,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “The coordinated response and influx of U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, Florida National Guard, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Highway Patrol, and Florida Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers, among other resources, have been extremely effective. The number of migrants making it to the Florida Keys has been dramatically reduced. I also want to thank Sen. Rick Scott, Rep. Carlos Gimenez, and Gov. Ron DeSantis for their support. Their tireless efforts on this issue have greatly alleviated the burden on local first responders including those from my office.”

 

The Dilemmas Continue

This plethora of dilemmas shows no sign of abatement. However, absent immigration policy change by the United States Congress, the law enforcement agencies that serve all our citizens and guests will always respond to assist one another to provide protection and humanitarian assistance.