We like to think that most illegal immigrants in the East Valley are harmless folks just trying to make a living, and indeed most are.
But not a few among them are desperate criminals. Our porous southern border could be allowing any number of outright terrorists into the country.
So border security is at the very least a public-safety issue, and heaven forbid we should wake up someday and find that Osama bin Laden’s latest depredations on U.S. soil came at the hands of someone who slipped across the border at Nogales.
That’s why it was disturbing when federal agents failed to help the state Department of Public Safety on June 1 after DPS officers rounded up several dozen suspected illegals in west Mesa. DPS called for help but only one agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — aka ICE — was available when DPS called at the ungodly hour of 2:49 a.m. That agent brought a van and detained 18 of the suspects. But 24 were turned loose not far from a residential neighborhood and nobody even checked their identities.
The ICE agent in charge that night, Kyle Barnette, later admitted to the Tribune that releasing the suspects was a mistake. While such releases may have been common in the past, they’re not supposed to happen now under our new, improved homeland security system and the highly touted "Operation ICE Storm" crackdown on illegal immigration.
Barnette now is being transferred to ICE’s New Orleans office — a move officials say was planned before the June 1 incident. His replacement is Michael Turner, a veteran law enforcement officer and recent veteran of the agency’s operations in San Diego.
Turner’s first public comments in the Valley were not particularly reassuring. He said he can’t guarantee his agents will always respond promptly when local law officers call for help with groups of suspected illegals.
For him to say that, on the one hand, may be a simple acknowledgement of reality. So many illegals, so few agents to go around.
On the other hand, we would welcome a bit more of a "can do" attitude from the guy whose job is to stem the flow not only of gentle landscapers but also of arch-criminals and gangsters who, among other things, have greatly escalated violent crime in the Valley and helped turn us into America’s stolen-car capital.
Further, Turner didn’t help his cause by stonewalling a Tribune reporter’s request for information about some 200 incidents that Barnette claims did show his agency was responsive to local police requests. This "just trust me" song and dance by public officials does get old after a while.
Turner has a tough job, no doubt about it. But it is an essential job. At the very least we have every right to expect no more vanloads of suspected criminals dumped on our very doorsteps.