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YCSO calls on federal government to pay fair share of incarcerations

Statement says locals have paid more than $2 million to house accused drug smugglers after declined prosecutions

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - The Yuma County Sheriff's Office (YCSO) is appealing to the federal government to start paying its fair share for the incarceration of undocumented immigrants.

YCSO released a statement Thursday citing the high cost of housing accused drug smugglers in the Yuma County Detention Center (YCDC). Internal records show, it cost more than $2 million for deputies to feed and house the 293 accused marijuana mules brought to the YCDC by U.S. Border Patrol and ICE between 2015 and 2018.

The Sheriff's Office says federal agents brought the suspects to the jail, but then federal prosecutors declined to prosecute their cases, leaving Sheriff Leon Wilmot with only two choices; release them from custody, or hold them for local prosecution. The statement says, the sheriff opted on the side of public safety:

"If Sheriff Wilmot had not intervened, these criminals would have otherwise been released with no charges by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and would have been free to continue their criminal activity. Instead, those drug smugglers received on average 2.5 years in prison"

-Statement from YCSO, April 29, 2021

YCSO says it now faces a situation similar to that it saw five years ago, but this time the accused smugglers are carrying more dangerous drugs.

"No longer are these smugglers carrying marijuana through the remote desert; they are now bringing methamphetamine by the hundreds of pounds. These are individuals making a conscience decision to smuggle narcotics into our country, camouflaging themselves to avoid detection. In many cases, those carrying drugs are claiming their participation is the price they must pay to the cartels for passage into the United States."

-Statement from YCSO, April 29, 2021

YCSO says, once again, U.S. Attorneys are declining to prosecute these cases. Once again, the statement says, it's dealing with a high volume of inmates now needing local prosecution.

"Once again, the local taxpayer is left to shoulder the cost, a burden which should be borne by the Federal Government."

-Statement from YCSO, April 29, 2021

YCSO says Sheriff Wilmot is committed to seeing those accused of drug smuggling prosecuted.

"If the Federal Government does not hold them accountable for their illegal actions and the danger their smuggled drugs present to our nation, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office will."

-Statement from YCSO, April 29, 2021

YCSO and Sheriff Wilmot then urge local residents to contact their federal representatives to ask the government to cover the costs of the undocumented immigrants it is placing in the county detention center.

KYMA.com did reach out to Sheriff Wilmot for comment. YSCO declined our request for an interview.

YCSO's full statement on the cost of illegal immigrant incarceration:

"In 2014, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO), along with the Yuma County Attorney’s Office, were presented with a challenging situation when they were forced to undertake responsibility for prosecuting undocumented immigrants smuggling marijuana into Yuma County. This responsibility was only assumed by the YCSO and the County Attorney’s Office because the United States Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute the drug smugglers. Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot’s commitment to enforcing Arizona State laws did not allow the criminals to go unprosecuted, and the Sheriff’s Office absorbed the costs of housing the inmates.

The lack of Federal prosecution has cost the local taxpayers over $2 million to incarcerate 293 smugglers interdicted by Border Patrol and Homeland Security from 2015 through 2018. The smugglers were arrested on state charges for felony drug smuggling. The combined prisoner incarceration stay was over 30,000 days, which averaged to 102.5 days per prisoner in local custody while the cases were adjudicated. If Sheriff Wilmot had not intervened, these criminals would have otherwise been released with no charges by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and would have been free to continue their criminal activity. Instead, those drug smugglers received on average 2.5 years in prison.

The YCSO now finds itself in a similar predicament once again. Within the last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrested 15 undocumented immigrants that were apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol smuggling narcotics. No longer are these smugglers carrying marijuana through the remote desert; they are now bringing methamphetamine by the hundreds of pounds. These are individuals making a conscience decision to smuggle narcotics into our country, camouflaging themselves to avoid detection. In many cases, those carrying drugs are claiming their participation is the price they must pay to the cartels for passage into the United States. It is the drug cartels that control the border crossers and exploit them and extort them for thousands of dollars each. The smugglers have been booked into the Yuma County Detention Center on State charges after the U.S. Attorney is again declining to prosecute. Once again, the local taxpayer is left to shoulder the cost, a burden which should be borne by the Federal Government.

Sheriff Wilmot is 100% committed to seeing that these criminals are prosecuted. If the Federal Government does not hold them accountable for their illegal actions and the danger their smuggled drugs present to our nation, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office will. Sheriff Wilmot would like to urge the public to take action by contacting their elected representatives by mail or phone in order to demand border security and the enforcement of laws. The contact information for Arizona’s elected representatives is included in this document."

-Statement from YCSO, April 29, 2021
Immigration / Top Stories / Yuma County
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Lisa Sturgis

Lisa Sturgis recently returned to KYMA as its Digital Content Director, but she and her family have a long history in the Desert Southwest.

Brandon Mejia

Brandon Mejia joins the news team as the evening anchor for KSWT. You can catch him weeknight at 6 and 10 p.m.

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