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Ducey pushes for Nat'l Guard on border, cites feds declining to pick up migrants after Arizona DPS stop

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey continued his call for National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border and attacked the Biden administration after federal officials reportedly refused to take into custody 17 people that the Department of Public Safety said were in the country illegally.

This follows weeks of calls from the governor to send troops to the border as federal immigration officials encounter more migrants, including asylum-seekers, along the southwestern border.

Friday morning, a DPS trooper pulled over a white cargo van on Interstate 10 at milepost 159 near the city of Chandler. According to a release from the agency, the state trooper identified the driver as  a U.S. citizen and "observed" 17 people in the vehicle, who were determined to be undocumented. "AZDPS requested assistance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the United States Border Patrol to take custody of the undocumented aliens, both agencies declined the request," DPS officials said.

After federal agents did not arrive to take the 17 people into custody, the state trooper issued traffic tickets and impounded the vehicle. 

"Absent response from the agencies with jurisdiction on immigration violations, the state trooper issued the appropriate citations for the traffic violations, impounded the vehicle and was forced to release the subjects," DPS said in a post on Facebook. 

In a statement, Ducey said that the Biden administration "needs to get its head out of the sand when it comes to the crisis at our border." 

"This lack of action defies all logic, and flies in the face of the law," he said. "This administration is asleep at the switch, and their total lack of action is having real consequences here in the state of Arizona."

"ICE officers were unable to immediately respond when notified by Arizona local law enforcement. When ICE officers did arrive on scene, the occupants of the vehicle had already departed,” a federal spokeswoman told TucsonSentinel.com hours later.

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The immigration officers did not go to the scene of the DPS stop until around 6:30 p.m. — about 12 hours after the troopers halted the vehicle. State officials did not provide information about how they determined the immigration status of the passengers in the stopped van.

Ducey said that Border Patrol needs the support of the administration, and pushed for the state's senators and congressional representatives to call on the White House to deploy the National Guard to the border.

"If the federal government isn’t going to do its job, then Arizona will take matters into our own hands and provide support to sheriffs and local law enforcement," he said.

However, Ducey did not lay out how the state would expand efforts to aid county sheriffs and local police. Many local agencies have indicated that they will not involve themselves in enforcing federal immigration regulations.

Instead, Ducey pushed to bring the Guard back to the border, reiterating a point he made in March, when he wrote on Twitter that he had "requested federal reimbursement for deployment, so we can do it again and get this crisis under control." 

In April 2018, Ducey held a press conference at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Nogales to announce the deployment of roughly 338 guardsmen to the border as part of the Trump administration's move to harden border enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Through 2018 National Guard troops were deployed along the border under Operation Guardian Support. However, National Guard troops could not detain people crossing the border, but were instead relegated to support roles, including managing the feeding and care of Border Patrol's horses, fixing and maintaining the agency's vehicles, and watching remote surveillance cameras. Some Air National Guard units flew helicopters over the southwestern desert, providing surveillance, and when needed, search and rescue operations, including plucking hurt migrants from remote mountain-tops. 

In late 2018, the Trump administration went further, and launched Operation Secure Line, a 7,000-strong deployment of National Guard troops—which included not just troops, but border defenses, intelligence analysts, and heavy aircraft adding "robust military capabilities" in Arizona's border towns. Along with the troops, engineers added concertina or "razor wire" along the U.S.-Mexico border, welding the dangerously sharp wire to the border wall in places like downtown Nogales, Arizona. 

Border Patrol officials defended the National Guard's role by stating that by aiding the agency in support roles, more agents could be out in the field to secure the border. 

In March, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva criticized Ducey's push for National Guard troops on the border. 

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"The humanitarian situation that families and children at the border are experiencing warrants a comprehensive humanitarian response, and another troop deployment is not the answer," he said. "Instead of highlighting the real issues facing our border like a gutted asylum system and long-running backlogs, Gov. Ducey has ripped a page straight out of the Republican playbook and threatened to ​once again send in the troops." 

This will not solve the backlogs, will not help border communities, and most importantly, will not ensure the proper treatment and care of asylum seeking adults and unaccompanied children," Grijalva said. "We’ve seen this before with past troop deployments during the Trump administration. Sending in more troops will only ​further militarize border communities and provide a military solution to a humanitarian challenge." 

During a press conference on COVID-19 vaccinations on March 24, Ducey struck at the White House, and attacked the appointment of Vice President Kamala Harris as a "border czar," calling her the "worst possible choice." 

Ducey said that President Joe Biden had "completely trivialized the issue by putting someone in charge who flat out just doesn't care," and said that in "no point in her carer" had the vice president "given any indication that she considers the border a problem or a serious threat." 

This followed similar statements the governor made in Douglas, Ariz., after a roundtable discussion. 

"The governor's been clear on this," said C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for the governor's office. "The administration is sleep at the switch, and they need to wake up," he said. "This is the federal government's job first and foremost, and the governor wants to them to do their job and secure the border. If they don't, Arizona has to act." 

"Ducey would rather waste taxpayer money posing for photos and trying to score political points than do the real work of restoring the borderlands, healing communities and ensuring that asylum seekers are treated with dignity and respect," said Laiken Jordahl, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, who called Ducey's Douglas tour a "shameful publicity stunt." 

"Clearly he’s more worried about his next job than the welfare of the state he’s supposed to be governing," Jordahl said.  

Ducey has also touted his "Border Strike Force," a DPS effort created by the governor in 2015 that was supposed to aid border security efforts. However, three stops included in a release from the governor's office were routine stops completed far from the border. As the Arizona Republic put it, "each of the highlighted seizures appeared to have been made through the solid, and routine, work of troopers patrolling the state's highways. And none took place near the border." 

Since April 2020, the number of times Border Patrol agents have encountered people crossing along the U.S.-Mexico has steadily increased, rising from 17,106 encounters with agents that month to 78,444 through January. Since January, that number has spiked with total encounters rising to 101,028 in February and 172,331 in March.

These numbers do not reflect apprehensions of individuals, but rather times that agents have taken someone into custody, a number complicated because of Title 42, a public health order from the CDC that allows Border Patrol agents to quickly expel someone from the U.S. if they have traveled through a country with a large number of COVID-19 cases. 

While Title 42 was put into place by the Trump administration, Biden's White House has kept the order in place, allowing U.S. Border Patrol to expel people nearly 237,000 people in 2021 alone. However, Mexican authorities have—state-by-state—refused to accept the return of certain migrants who crossed from Mexico into the U.S. further complicating efforts along the border. While Mexican officials will accept Mexican citizens, as well as people from the "Northern Triangle" countries, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, they are refusing to accept people from other countries, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil.

In March alone, when apprehensions had the highest monthly total in decades, the agency expelled people 102,000 times. 

Troy Miller, the acting commissioner for CBP, said that in February while more than 100,000 people were apprehended, this represented about 75,000 "unique individuals." And, the recidivism rate is at its highest rate in years at 20 percent. 

In the Tucson Sector, which covers Arizona from the Yuma County line to the Arizona-New Mexico border, agents encountered people just over 80,000 times from October to March. Of those, about 85 percent were single adults, according to statistics from the agency. About 9 percent of those encountered were unaccompanied minors, and about 6 percent are people traveling as families.

In response to COVID-19 and the needs of families as required by a range of federal rules created by as a consequence of lawsuits filed against ICE and Border Patrol—including a federal case over the treatment of migrants in Tucson Sector holding areas—both agencies have begun releasing families to non-profit groups in Tucson and Phoenix, as well as to the towns of Ajo, Gila Bend and Yuma.

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ADOT

An image from an Arizona Department of Transportation camera showing Friday's stop on I-10.

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