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BP union head, Babeu accuse feds of 'lack of enforcement' at border
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BP union head, Babeu accuse feds of 'lack of enforcement' at border

Pinal sheriff bars reporter from public building

  • The president of the National Border Patrol Council, Brandon Judd, claimed that the Obama administration is 'manipulating data' during a press conference in Florence on Tuesday.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com The president of the National Border Patrol Council, Brandon Judd, claimed that the Obama administration is 'manipulating data' during a press conference in Florence on Tuesday.

The president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents, accused the Obama administration of "manipulating data," and said supervisors were telling agents to release apprehended immigrants without documents requiring their appearance in court.

Border Patrol Agent Brandon Judd made his comments during a press conference at the Pinal County Sheriff's Office headquarters in Florence on Tuesday. The conference was hosted by Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is making his second run for Congress, and included union reps from the Tucson and the Rio Grande Valley sectors. Also appearing before reporters were Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles, and an agent from the Willcox Station.

A staffer for Babeu blocked a Phoenix reporter from covering the announcement.

Judd said that the Obama administration had recently "raised the white flag of surrender," to what he called "pathologically dangerous criminal cartels that plague the Southwestern border" by establishing a new system of enforcement designed to focus law enforcement efforts on criminal aliens.

The system, called the Priority Enforcement Program, was announced by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who established three priorities for enforcement as part of a reorganization announced by President Barack Obama during a televised speech in November 2014.

In a memo outlining the program, Johnson wrote that "as a general rule, DHS detention resources should be used to support the enforcement priorities."

"Absent extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention, field office directors should not expend detention resources on aliens who are known to be suffering from serious physical or mental illness, who are disabled, elderly, pregnant, or nursing, who demonstrate that they are primary caretakers of children or an infirm person, or whose detention is otherwise not in the public interest," Johnson said. "To detain aliens in those categories who are not subject to mandatory detention, DHS officers or special agents must obtain approval from the ICE Field Office Director."

As a result, Judd said that agents were apprehending immigrants along the Southwestern border, and fingerprinting them, but were ordered not to file "notices to appear" — legal documents that require immigrants to show up in court and file for prosecutorial discretion or asylum claims.

"Border Patrol agents do not turn every individual we arrest over to ICE,” Judd said. “Instead, we walk many of them out the front door without being interviewed. We simply let them go and pretend they were never in our custody.”

This also means that immigration officials cannot track people, Judd said.

 Judd also accused the agency of sending agents away from “high traffic areas” in order to make it appear that apprehensions were decreasing, a move he said was designed to make the political case that the border was increasingly safe. “This is a story, the administration is trying to sell the American people,” Judd said.

TucsonSentinel.com requested a comment from CBP and DHS officials on Judd's claims but the agencies have not provided a statement.

However, during a hearing with the House subcommittee on March 1, CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske responded to a question by U.S. Rep. David Young, who asked about earlier comments made by Judd and other members of the NBPC to Congress.

Kerlikowske said that Border Patrol “shouldn’t be releasing anyone without going through” ICE.

“No one that is under the age of 14 isn’t fingerprinted and photographed, and debriefed,” said Kerlikowske, adding that Border Patrol agents should be going through the formalities required by law. Kerlikowske added that he was concerned that NBPC was “not the most knowledgable organization about what is going on.”

Kerlikowske said that agents who "don’t want to follow the directions of superiors” really "need to look for another job.”

Judd bristled at Kerlikowske’s comment: “If the council isn’t a reliable source, why doesn’t he dispute my comments with facts? He can’t because the truth doesn’t fit the narrative being sold by political appointees.”

During the press conference, Babeu noted that in the last four months, the number of of family units coming across the border increased 170 percent this fiscal year when compared to the same period last year.

Statistics from Border Patrol's parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirm this figure, though from December to January, the total number of both unaccompanied minors and family units dropped significantly.

In the Tucson Sector, the number of both unaccompanied minors coming into Arizona is around one-third of what during the same time period the year before, and the number of family units is around 80 percent fewer. Largely, the increase is due to increasing numbers of both groups in the Rio Grande Valley.

In January, agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a series of raids in at least six states, all targeting families with children in an attempt to blunt the influx of Central Americans fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Following the raids, Johnson sent out a press release, saying that the arrests should "come as no surprise."

"I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed,"  Johnson said in a statement.

"It's a lack of enforcement," said Babeu. "The reason why is this is happening—don't scratch your head about this—there is a lack of consequences."

"We should be putting every resource we can to the border," said Babeu. "Everyone keeps talking about building the 'danged fence' but enforcing consequences, that's what it is going to take."

Babeu has been a sharp critic of the Obama administration and has regularly put himself in the fight over immigration.

In 2010, the sheriff starred in a political commercial for U.S. Sen. John McCain, promising to build the "danged fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In 2014, Babeu set off a protest in Oracle, north of Tucson, by leaking information that a nearby boarding school was about to receive a group of unaccompanied minors, as part of a federal effort to deal with thousands of children who crossed into the Rio Grande Valley and were held in a temporary processing in Nogales beginning in May 2014. 

More than 150 protesters arrived in Oracle to protest the arrival of the children. 

Fearing that protesters would interfere with buses carrying children along a two-lane rural highway, officials with Health and Human Services redirected their efforts, and shunted the children to other facilities, including one in Tucson. 

Homeland Security has also held families while they wait asylum proceedings, pushing them to privately run facilities in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. 

This procedure has been challenged in court and in July 2015, a federal judge in California ordered the administration to release immigrants held in facilities like Dilley, Texas. However, the administration has appealed and state officials in Texas have taken the usual step of trying to get the detention facilities classified as childcare centers. 

Since the protest, Babeu has regularly appeared on national media arguing that the Obama administration has failed to secure the border, and used arrests of drug cartel scouts and drug seizures by deputies to build his political profile. Last October, Babeu announced he would again run for Congress, for a seat being left open after U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick announced she would run against McCain for U.S. Senate.

Babeu was forced to drop out of the 2012 race before the Republican Party primary when allegations surfaced that he threatened to deport his boyfriend, an undocumented immigant, if he revealed his relationship with the sheriff.

Sheriff kept reporter out of press conference

Just before the press conference began Tuesday, the director of administration at PCSO, Tim Gaffney, refused to allow Dave Biscobing, an investigative reporter with ABC15 into the building

"As a public official, you're going to deny me access to speak to the sheriff?" Biscobing asked. 

"As I've explained to you, even to your own staff, you have hatred for the sheriff, you have bias against the sheriff, therefore you personally cannot go up," Gaffney said. 

ABC15 said on its website that the station believes that the refusal was an abuse of power and that "journalists have a constitutional right to cover public officials." 

The station noted that in late January, Biscobing had "launched a series of stories about Sheriff Babeu’s tenure running a therapeutic boarding school in Massachusetts. Experts said the school horrifically abused its students and even tortured them."

Babeu had previously denied knowledge of the practices, but Biscobing had unearthed home video showing Babeu "praise the abuse practices in detail," said ABC15. 

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