Armed conflict in Arizona between sheriff's deputies and heavily equipped drug cartel squads is inevitable, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Tuesday during a speech in Ahwatukee Foothills.
"We're expecting a conflict," Babeu told the Ahwatukee Republican Women's organization at the Grace Inn, 51st Street and Elliot Road. "I absolutely believe you're going to see that happen in the next 30 to 60 days. It's not like I'm trying to start a war with the cartels. They're coming through like they own this place, and we're trying to stop them. I pray that every time, they surrender."
About 70 people turned out to hear Babeu, who was re-elected recently to a second term as president of the Arizona Sheriff's Association. A self-described friend and ally of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Babeu has risen to the forefront of the national debate over illegal immigration and is an outspoken critic of what he believes is the federal government's adversarial relationship with Arizona and federal officials' failure to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
"The federal government has literally become an enemy who is fighting us, and I have not been afraid to fight them," he said.
Babeu ripped into Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's contention that the border is as safe and secure as it has ever been. Last year in the eastern portion of Arizona's two sectors, which includes Phoenix and Tucson, the U.S. Border Patrol reported apprehending 241,000 illegal immigrants. However, the agency estimates there were an additional 400,000 illegal border crossers in this sector that were not caught, he said.
"Close to 20 percent already have criminal records established in America," Babeu said.
A significant percentage of illegal immigrants caught in Pinal County are from countries other than Mexico, he said, including "countries of interest" such as Yemen, Somalia and Syria.
"Nations whose governments have sponsored terrorists or are anti-American," Babeu said.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the public was told to be vigilant and not be lulled into a false sense of security, he said.
"Our own federal government is the one who is trying to lull us into a false sense of security," Babeu said.
Drug seizures in Pinal County have more than doubled in the last two years, while the number of high-speed police pursuits rose from 142 in 2007 to 340 in 2010, he said.
The federal Bureau of Land Management has erected more than a dozen signs in Pinal County warning people to stay away from places designated as active drug and human smuggling areas where visitors might encounter armed criminals. Drug cartels have infiltrated the U.S. and have set up observation posts to ensure their shipments make it through, Babeu said.
He likened the cartel's activities in the U.S. to a foreign insurgency.
"Less than 30 miles from where we are now, they have 50 locations in Pinal County that are scout locations," Babeu said. "They're providing safe passage for drug and human smuggling coming though our county. They're reinforcing their supply routes."
On Oct. 25, cartel hitmen killed an informant who was working for the Sheriff's Department, shooting him a half-dozen times, he said.
"A cartel hit in Pinal County. That's what we've arrived at," Babeu said.
In another recent incident, the cartels sent a team of heavily armed assassins to Arizona to dispatch bandits that had been robbing drug mules, he said.
"Certainly they've destabilized their country," Babeu said of the Mexican cartels. "That stuff is coming here."
Deputies have discovered abandoned vehicles used by bandits that have been made up to look like police cars, complete with spotlights, sirens and red and blue lights, he said. Such tactics not only could lead illegal immigrants to distrust U.S. law enforcement, but it could touch off a gunfight if deputies attempt to confront armed men, he added.
"They may believe we're bandits saying we're the sheriff," Babeu said.
He endorsed a plan put forward by Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyl to send armed U.S. soldiers to the border and to construct a double-barrier security fence. Additionally, Babeu said authorities should hold illegal immigrants in custody for longer periods as a deterrent to repeat offenders, rather than using the current system of "catch and release."
"The core problem is an unsecured border," Babeu said. "I've asked (President Barack Obama) to give me a half hour and I'd give him the solution to the border. He hasn't called me back."
He accused Napolitano, Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of "throwing up their hands and saying, ‘We can't do it'" and of portraying local authorities as racial profilers instead of as protectors and enforcers of the law.
"We do have the answer to secure the border. It's not beyond us. That is literally un-American for them to say that," Babeu said. "How have we arrived at this point in America, that it's the job of the local sheriff to fight cartels from a foreign country?"
As for the drug cartels, he said, "I want to say to them publicly, ‘You're not coming through.'"