In the first three weeks of Arizona’s new anti-smuggling law, law enforcement officers in Cochise County arrested 43 alleged smugglers.

One of them is an 18-year-old college student who used his parents’ vehicle, according to Carol Capas, spokeswomen for the Cochise County Sheriffs Office.

“He lives at home with his parents and he just wanted some extra money and he heard that this was a good way to do it,” Capas told NTD’s Melina Wisecup.

“Now he’s sitting in our jail on a class two felony, and he’s going to be there for a while.”

Cochise County is mostly remote desert and ranchland. It sits on the border with Mexico and is a thoroughfare for illegal aliens who are avoiding law enforcement in order to disappear further into the United States.

“These people can’t turn themselves in, they’ll get deported. These are the bad people. We’re dealing with the worst of the worst,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels told The Epoch Times in a previous interview.

Detective Jake Kartchner with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office border unit, stands at the U.S.–Mexico border fence that was slated to be replaced with a 30-foot fence before President Joe Biden halted all border wall construction in January 2021, in Cochise County, Arizona on Dec. 6, 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Border Patrol agents in that border sector record at least 10,000 such aliens—known as “gotaways”—each month, the highest in the country.

Since the anti-smuggling law came into effect on Sept. 24, the price for smuggling has also increased, Capas said. Previously, a driver could make up to around $1,500 per person to get from Cochise to Tucson or Phoenix. Now, it’s up around $3,000 per person, she said.

Drivers are recruited via social media sites such as Tik Tok, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Snapchat, Dannels said.

“The cartels use social media to recruit the smuggler drivers to come here to Cochise County to smuggle out of here,” he said. “So [they] attract juveniles off social media, which is very sad. [They] attract repetitive criminals that see an easy dollar coming here, which is the majority of what we see.”

Epoch Times Photo
Clothes and trash left by illegal aliens who were picked up by smugglers on Highway 92, three miles from the U.S.–Mexico border, in Cochise County, Arizona on Dec. 6, 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Capas said a 65-year-old and his girlfriend are also now in jail.

“[They] drove from Florida in a rental car two weeks ago. He and his girlfriend decided to come out and make some money. They failed to return the rental car and they got caught. So now he’s in our jail and she’s in our jail,” she said.

Arizona hasn’t had an anti-smuggling law at the state level since 2012 when the Supreme Court gutted its new state border security legislation.

In 2010, the state Legislature approved SB 1070 in an attempt to secure its own border after it said the federal government was failing in its duty. It included a section that made it illegal to transport, conceal, or harbor an illegal alien.

Until now, the state Legislature had failed to create a standalone anti-smuggling law.

It had been a longstanding federal crime to smuggle illegal aliens, but that’s up to the U.S. attorneys to prosecute at the federal level, and they weren’t taking up most cases, especially those involving juvenile drivers, according to Cochise County Attorney Brian McIntyre.

“What appears to be a policy right now is [if you have] five or fewer aliens in your vehicle, then prosecution won’t be accepted,” he told The Epoch Times in a previous interview.

Epoch Times Photo
A Border Patrol agent pulls tires behind his vehicle to smooth out the road to make detecting footprints easier, near Naco in Cochise County, Arizona on Dec. 6, 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Dannels’s office had to apply any other state charge to smugglers that would stick.

“Anytime we can charge for pursuits, reckless driving, traffic violations, trespass—we’ll charge them,” he said.

Prior to the new law, one alleged smuggler was even charged with kidnapping as he tried to evade police by traveling at speeds of 100 miles per hour and driving erratically before the 17-year-old driver ultimately crashed the vehicle. The illegal alien passengers told police they had repeatedly told him to stop. No one was seriously hurt.

Epoch Times Photo
A Border Patrol agent walks from the wreckage of Wanda Sitowski’s car after a 16-year-old smuggler ran a red light at 105 miles per hour and caused a fatal crash in Cochise County, Ariz., on Oct. 30, 2021. (Zach Bennett/Sierra Vista News Network)

Dannels said that since January he’s booked into jail 1,016 people for border-related crimes. Since March, his officers have been involved in 144 vehicle pursuits and opened more than 700 border-related smuggling investigations.

“That’s unheard of here,” Dannels said. “We’ve always seen smuggling, but to the level we’re seeing now to the aggression with the pursuits, the fights, whatever they do to get away from us.”

He blames the Biden administration’s policies that quickly dismantled many border security measures in January 2021.

Since Biden took office, border officials have encountered or reported more than 5 million illegal aliens, including about 1 million gotaways, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

“Right now the message is the border’s open. And the only winners are the criminal cartels that are exploiting Americans every day,” Dannels said.

“It’s so avoidable. That’s what’s frustrating to me. This is America’s border, not my border—America’s border.”

Dannels recapped the first 15 minutes of radio traffic that morning after he checked in at 6:45 a.m.

“We had 14 [illegal aliens] bail out of a car out here south of where we’re at right now. We had a suspicious vehicle [that] turned out to be a person there to pick up [illegal aliens]. … And then we had suspicious activity up in our canyon. That’s just the first three calls that the first 15 minutes I was on this morning before I went to my first meeting,” he said.

“Find me a Border Patrol agent working on the front line that says this border is secure and I’ll buy you a steak dinner, because I’ve never heard it.”

Charlotte Cuthbertson

Senior Reporter


Charlotte Cuthbertson is a senior reporter with The Epoch Times who primarily covers border security and the opioid crisis.

You Might Like
Learn more about RevenueStripe...