Gosar urges sheriff to jail illegals - Wilmot cites lack of authority
YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) - An Arizona Congressman has called on the Yuma County Sheriff to arrest and detain any illegal immigrants released into the U.S. under a new federal policy.
The Biden administration released new guidelines Thursday directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to adopt a more targeted approach to its duties. The policy is similar to those held by previous administrations. It prioritizes the removal of illegal migrants who threaten public safety or national security.
The guidelines are a complete reversal from the directive issued by the Trump administration. It instructed ICE, and Border Patrol, to seek out and either expel, or arrest, anyone found in the country illegally.
Republican Congressman Paul Gosar (R- Arizona), who represents the northern portion of Yuma County, opposes any easing of Trump-era border enforcement. On Thursday, he raised a red flag about impact an influx of migrants could have on the county, particularly with regards to the spread of coronavirus.
Gosar penned a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey, and Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot urging the sheriff to take aggressive enforcement measures to protect the public from the threat of COVID posed by migrants.
In the letter Gosar writes:
"I am asking that Sheriff Wilmot intercept these aliens and hold them in prison until they can be tested, quarantined, and then returned to their home countries. The general public of Arizona should not be subjected to this mass event that will spread infected aliens throughout the state."-Letter to Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot from Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-Ariz.)
Yuma County has been a hot spot for the virus during both waves of the pandemic. In his letter, Gosar goes on to cite the county's current COVID-19 statistics, and writes:
"This is not the time to release super spreaders into Yuma County. There should never be a time for this."-Letter to Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot from Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-Ariz.)
Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot responded to Gosar's letter Thursday afternoon. Sheriff Wilmot acknowledged the congressman's request, and asserted his dedication to keeping the peace in Yuma County. However, the sheriff said he simply could not honor Gosar's request. Wilmot writes:
"...as Sheriff, I do not have the statutory authority to honor Congressman Gosar's request to intercept aliens released into the community by the federal government who has given them documents giving them permission to be in this country."-Statement from Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot
Sheriff Wilmot cited years of cooperation with federal partners along the border, but did voice frustration with the failure of the government to better communicate plans that could impact local communities.
"We often communicate with the federal policymakers and seek to make our positions heard. It is frustrating when those policymakers make decisions and enact policies that impact our communities without first having communicated with us at the local level."-Statement from Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot
Wilmot expressed further frustration over the lack of additional funding for deputy overtime and other enforcement expenses. He also raised concerns about both the risk of coronavirus, and the depletion of virus-related resources earmarked for legal local residents.
However, the sheriff did find some comfort in some federal efforts to protect the public:
"I am pleased to learn from our local federal partners at ICE and Border Patrol that they are working diligently to screen these individuals to protect us from potential criminals. I am also glad to know that they are at least being medically screened prior to release and anyone who is identified as a potential health risk is taken in for medical treatment."-Statement from Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot
The Biden administration's immigration policies had Yuma County officials on alert even before it was officially announced. On Monday, Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls began raising red flags on social media:
Migrant family releases are beginning again, similar to 2019. More information to come. pic.twitter.com/jYl9Z4qapG— Douglas Nicholls (@MayorNicholls) February 16, 2021
News 11 reached out to the U.S. Border Patrol to confirm it did indeed plan to begin releasing migrants into Yuma County. The agency issued this statement in response to our inquiry:
“CBP has seen a steady increase in border encounters since April 2020, which, aggravated by COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing guidelines, has caused some facilities to reach maximum safe holding capacity. Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing. As the Administration reviews the current immigration process, balancing it against the ongoing pandemic, we will continue to use all current authorities to avoid keeping individuals in a congregate setting for any length of time."- Special Operations Supervisor Vincent Dulesky, Yuma Sector Border Patrol
Agent Dulesky did not confirm the total number of migrants to be released. He did tell us agents have seen a distinct increase in the number of illegal immigrants encountered in just the past few weeks. Dulesky told our Brandon Mejia, agents previously apprehended as few as 20 migrants per day. More recently, he said, they're routinely taking more than 100 into custody on a daily basis.
Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) on Thursday also focused on the potential influx of migrants into Yuma County. He wrote a letter to President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging them to divert FEMA funding to help cities impacted by the release of illegal migrants.