TUCSON - A southern Arizona sheriff's department has created a border crime unit in response to escalating smuggling-related violence in what authorities are calling "a war zone," officials said Monday.
The new unit will focus on interdicting drugs and smugglers, including those bringing in illegal immigrants, in a portion of Pima County where such activity has been heaviest in recent months, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said.
The unit is starting with six deputies and a sergeant and will add a dozen deputies in the 2008 fiscal year. The officers will be trained and cross-certified in immigration law by federal officials to enforce federal immigration laws, the sheriff said. "But we won't be out there looking for illegal immigrants per se," Dupnik said.
The violence, much of it involving Mexican criminals preying on fellow Mexicans, has created "a brand new problem of gigantic proportions when it comes to safety," the sheriff said.
Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson, whose district shares 130 miles with Mexico, the longest portion of border of the 24 counties in the four Southwestern states, said, "It's a war zone; it's a scary place. It's not a safe place to be."