Ray Hunkins: First-Person Report To Wyoming From The Southern Border

Columnist Ray Hunkins writes: "Human smuggling and its 'progeny of evils', sex trafficking and involuntary servitude, have become big business for the cartels and gangs that control illicit Border crossings."

Annaliese Wiederspahn

April 22, 202113 min read

Ray hunkins headshot cropped
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Ray Hunkins, columnist
Ray Hunkins is a retired Wyoming lawyer and former law enforcement officer who spends part of the year on the Border.

   “Knock, knock . . . who’s there?”  Years ago, these words were the introduction to funny jokes. “Knock, knock . . . who’s here” is no joke.

An estimated 23,000 illegal aliens a month have escaped apprehension and made their way into the interior of our country. Some of them represent a danger to the communities in which they have imbedded.

   I write this from a location 27 miles north of the International Border with Mexico and 3 miles south of a permanent Border Patrol checkpoint on the Interstate. I don’t claim to be an expert in immigration issues, but I am interested, observant, curious, and have a background in law and law enforcement. Thus, I have been interested in the unprecedented “challenge” (according to the Homeland Security Secretary) now occurring on our Southern Border.

   I listen to Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement officers that work on and adjacent to, the Border.  I see them frequently. I ask a lot of questions. We routinely shop in a border community to our south and routinely travel north, through the Border Patrol checkpoint. I have done business with many Americans of Mexican decent in and around the community we live in during the winter and I have done business with Mexican Nationals in Sonora, Mexico. Great folks. Most are concerned with the chaos and lawlessness that is the Southwest Border today..

         The Biden Administration refuses to call it a “crisis” but I don’t know how else you could describe what is going on along the Border. They seem obsessed with the words that are used to describe what is happening and not very interested in fixing it. It is, in short, a catastrophe.

   On the entire length of the Border, from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California, during the month of March, the Border Patrol reported 172,331 “encounters” compared to 34,460 in March of last year. “Encounters” include apprehensions of illegals as well as contacts with those claiming asylum. Increases were seen in all demographics: single adults, family units and, at last count, 20,000 unaccompanied children. The Border Patrol’s apprehensions year to date are at a 20-year high.

    The situation is bad and getting worse. The numbers of illegal crossers are fewer here in the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector than elsewhere, say in the Texas sectors adjacent to the Rio Grande. The Texas sectors are inundated with a great influx of unaccompanied juveniles and families from Central America.

Nevertheless, the Tucson Sector, which has 262 Border miles, has experienced 83,000 apprehensions year to date, compared to 35,500 this time last year.

   Human smuggling and its “progeny of evils”, sex trafficking and involuntary servitude, have become big business for the cartels and gangs that control illicit Border crossings. And, let there be no doubt, Mexican cartels control the Border.

   According to Art Del Cueto, a veteran Border Patrol Agent and president of the Tucson Chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, the average cost to be smuggled across the Border is about $4,000. Multiply that by the number of illegal crossings and it is easy to see why the cartels are increasingly turning to human smuggling as a preferred source of revenue.

   The apprehensions since the beginning of the fiscal year, October 1st,  and through March, include 136 identified gang members, including 37 members of the notorious MS-13 gang. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, some of the MS-13 members have been trained in guerilla warfare. “The gang is well-organized and is heavily involved in illegal enterprises, being notorious for its use of violence to achieve its objectives.” In addition to gang members, recent apprehensions have included two Yemini Nationals known or reasonably suspected of being engaged in terrorist activities and on the Terrorist Watch List.

   The seizure of drugs coming across the Border has skyrocketed. Since the beginning of the fiscal year and  through March, the Customs and Border Protection Agency has seized 347,755 pounds of illegal drugs, including 5,586 pounds of deadly Fentanyl, 55,420 pounds of Cocaine, 91,031 pounds of Methamphetamine and 193,082 pounds of Marijuana.

   How many drugs made it across the border undetected? That is unknown, but you can be assured it was plenty. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich recently told Fox News that drug smugglers are driving trucks filled with drugs, across remote areas of the Border, while Border agents, who would normally interdict such activity, are busy with children and paper work. Both Congressman Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise, in separate interviews, have stated that 40% of Border Patrol agents’ time is spent in tasks other than patrol, investigation and apprehension – tasks like taking care of children at detention centers, transporting Border crossers to bus stations and filling out the incessant paper work.

   The flood of immigrants and contraband has resulted in chaos at the Border and in many of the Communities along the Border. Attorney General Brnovich says, “the system is overwhelmed”.

   An “overwhelmed system” is not Border Agent Del Cueto’s greatest concern. He is most worried about the, “got-a-ways” – those illegal border crossers who were not apprehended and who evaded the Border Patrol, successfully getting away from the Border and into the interior of the country. Del Cueto estimates that in the Tucson Sector, the number of “got-a-ways”, year to date, is 48,000 ( an average of 8,000 per month). Given the number of apprehensions, 83,000, that means the Boarder Patrol is about 50% effective in Arizona.

   Border-wide, CBP’s estimate of got-a-ways is 140,000, year to date. Del Cueto says that is low. “I can guarantee you it’s more than 140,000.” Del Cueto worries about who these people are and why they have gone the extra mile, and made the extra effort, to evade detection.

    Who would want to evade detection when illegal crossers are being welcomed at the Border, processed and released if they claim asylum or have a child that they claim is a family member? Drug smugglers would. Sex traffickers would. Crossers with a felony record would. Cartel enforcers would. Gang members and terrorists would. Foreign agents and provocateurs would.

   In instances where the crossers are observed but not apprehended their numbers are estimated. Estimates of “got-a-ways” are made by counting tracks, monitoring remote cameras, both fixed and in drones and air assets that surveil remote areas of the Border. It stands to reason that there would have to be evidence of illegal crossing in order for any estimate to be made. When crossers successfully enter the U.S. and are completely undetected, they will not be counted in the estimated number.

    When estimates can be made because there is observable evidence, the estimates are rough, at best. Large numbers of human tracks in a confined space are difficult to count. Carpet shoes are often found with other discarded clothes where the surreptitious crossers change clothes before entering populated areas so as to better blend into the population. Exterior soles covered in carpet do not leave discernable tracks.

   So, what happens to these illegal crossers that are not apprehended at the Border? Enforcement of immigration and customs laws in the interior of the country is not the purview of the Border Patrol. The oft demonized Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as “ICE” is responsible for protecting us from illegal crossers that make it to the interior of the country; those who are not apprehended at the Border.

   ICE states its mission to be, “to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threatens national security and public safety. This mission is executed through the enforcement of more than 400 federal statutes and focuses on immigration enforcement and combating trans-national crime”.

   Unfortunately, ICE has been demonized by activists and is not favored by the Biden Administration. At the same time Border apprehensions are at a 20-year high, ICE arrests are down 75%.

   As a result of the policy shift disfavoring interior enforcement, Stephen Miller, former senior advisor to the Trump Administration, recently characterized it as a, “war on ICE”. Miller went on to state that the Administration has issued a directive to ICE to, “stop arresting criminal offenders among the illegal alien population.” Chief Deputy Sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, Matt Thomas, says, “the policy shift is killing us.”

   So, if ICE is not aggressively, “protecting America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threatens national security and public safety,” who is?

   Local and state law enforcement has stepped into the breach – and not just on the Border – but everywhere. Cross border crime is a problem that started on the Border but is now flooding the Nation from coast to coast and border to border.

   Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County, Florida recently stated that human and drug trafficking across the Southwest Border affects every county in America. Sheriff Clyde Harris of Platte County, Wyoming agrees with Sheriff Ivey and likens human trafficking to slavery. Sheriff Justin Marr of Victoria County, Texas notes a large increase in cross-border crime. He states that papers and personal effects among some illegal crossers link them to MS-13 and ISIS. Chief Deputy Thomas states the federal government is contributing to the overload of crime being experienced in Pinal County. “It’s like they don’t care” he says.

    What is the Biden Administration doing to protect the citizens of the United States from cross border crime and illegal immigration? Not much, as it turns out. The Migrant Protection Protocols put in place by the previous administration have been suspended. Work on the Border Wall has stopped. “Catch and release” has been revived as a policy. Many of the migrants who are apprehended, are being bussed and flown to interior communities across the United States. The Agreements negotiated by the Trump Administration with the Northern Triangle Countries have been abandoned.

    President Biden has yet to visit the Border. It has been three weeks since he announced that Vice President Harris would take charge of the Border problems. She has yet to put in an appearance at the Border. The Secretary of Homeland Security firmly denies there is a crisis. “It’s a challenge”, he says. The press is denied access to detention facilities housing minors. The Administration’s actions and inaction lead one to the conclusion the Border is not a priority for this Administration. Instead of a strategy, there is ineffective improvisation.

   The public and the media are fixated on the treatment of the children and the humanitarian concerns regarding illegal immigrants and those claiming asylum. Meanwhile, agents of the Border Patrol are taking care of the children, acting as chauffeurs, filling out paper work and dodging the Corona virus. All of this while an estimated 140,000 “get-a-ways”, among them, drug smugglers, human traffickers, gang members, terrorists and assorted criminal felons, evade apprehension and imbed themselves in cities and towns across America.

   The Biden Administration has acted with alacrity on one issue involving the Border. It recently named its nominee to lead the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, the administrative home for the Border Patrol. According to the New York Times, the nomination, if approved, will provoke a, “seismic cultural shift” in the Agency. That may be an understatement.

   In nominating the Tucson Chief of Police, Chris Magnus, the Administration managed to give a giant middle finger to the law enforcement officers who protect the Border. Magnus, a vocal critic of the Trump Administration’s Border policies (policies that worked), has been at odds with the Border Patrol and ICE since arriving in Tucson, woke views in tow, in 2016. Only a year after arriving, he wrote an op-ed criticizing Trump’s views on sanctuary cities, views with which most law enforcement officers on the Border agreed.

   Magnus made headlines when, as Chief of Police in Richmond, California, he was photographed, in uniform, carrying a Black Lives Matter sign during a protest. Magnus, who is openly gay and the first police chief in the United States to marry his husband, earned the disdain of a large segment of the law enforcement community on the Border, by openly supporting the radical, Marxist organization.

   The Vallejo Times Herald quotes a 2018 Facebook post by officials of the National Border Patrol Council, which stated Magnus, “is an ultra-liberal social engineer who was given a badge and a gun by the city of Tucson”. The Facebook post went on to allege, “Magnus was preaching anarchy and encouraging police officials to commit dereliction of duty”.

   The nomination of Magnus will require Senate confirmation. I expect Arizona’s two Democrat senators will support the nomination, but the last thing the Border needs is a demoralized Border Patrol whose leadership is politicized. The nomination is an opportunity for the Senate to show support for the men and women of the Border Patrol and ICE, while simultaneously making a statement that immigration laws are to be enforced. It is my hope that Senator John Barrasso and Senator Cynthia Lummis will seize the opportunity and vote not to confirm.

   This Administration is failing in its duty to, “faithfully execute the laws” and displays its contempt for the Rule of Law and the safety of the American people by nominating an individual who is not respected by the people he will lead and who has demonstrated support for radicalism, Marxist ideology and sanctuary cities.

    Customs and Border Protection must have a leader it trusts; a leader who believes in borders and who will enforce the law. Wokeness in the face of the catastrophe that is our Southwest Border is not a qualification for the position.

      The Biden Administration has presided over chaos and criminality at the Border. It is only a matter of time before Americans who don’t live on the Border, reap the whirlwind the Biden Administration has sewn. Political leaders in Washington need to protect all Americans from the clear and present danger that is a lawless Border.

Laws must be enforced.

Illegal migrants who are a danger to our society need to be identified, apprehended and removed. The Border needs to be sealed, the flow of drugs stopped and those sworn to protect the Border need to know they are supported and appreciated for their dangerous work.

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter