Tue, July 23

Chasing Moving Shadows: The decline of illegal immigration in Yavapai County

YAVAPAI COUNTY - The combination of economic dire straits and strong anti-illegal immigration laws has proven beneficial in some respects for local law enforcement, most notably because of a sharp slowdown in the number of undocumented immigrants booked into the jail.

Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher, well aware that the number of undocumented aliens taken into custody and/or housed by his department has dropped by nearly two-thirds since 2008, cited the combined factors as a reason.

"The coyotes (human smugglers) realize that Yavapai County is a 287g county and we're actively enforcing," Mascher said. "Plus, I think that at one time we had a booming economy and lots of jobs that were filled by illegal immigrants."

YCSO is one of only 83 departments nationwide with 287g status, under which designated personnel receive training in immigration enforcement and have the legal ability to detain suspected illegal immigrants for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), which deports convicted illegal aliens after they have completed their jail or prison sentences.

In 2008, 1,109 illegal immigrants landed in the county jail at some point. By 2010, that number had fallen to 309 and, thus far in 2011, only 134 had been taken into county custody by mid-September, a number that would prorate out to fewer than 200 by year's end.

According to Mascher, the changes couldn't have come at a better time.

"From 2008 to now," he said, "our budget is approximately $3 million less. We've been short-handed and we place our public safety duties over enforcing federal laws. But we're doing the same things now as we were doing in 2008. In 2008, 20 percent of our jail population was illegal immigrants. Now it's in the single digits."

That decrease in population has had a side benefit, too. In the last fiscal year, Mascher said the department was able to rent bed space to federal authorities, to the tune of almost $2.5 million.

"The biggest thing we've been working on with the illegal immigrants is the narcotics," Mascher said. "That's what affects us here the most, the drugs going north and the cash going south."

YCSO has three 287g-trained officers, and they primarily work in the jail, where ICE can follow up on detainees whose immigration status is suspect.

Ed Preciado, ICE's deputy field officer for detention and removal in northern Arizona, said it makes fiscal sense for the officers in the cooperative program to be in the jail, where they can use available tools to identify detainees who are here illegally.

"Due to our limited resources, that's where we get the most bang for our buck," Preciado said. "If they get booked into the jail, they're going to get identified and through biometrics, specifically fingerprints. They can't just give us a name and a date of birth. Fingerprints don't lie."

As to the perceived decline in the amount of criminal activity on the part of illegal immigrants in northern Arizona, Preciado agrees it is so.

"We have seen a decrease," he said. "I think the word has gotten out to the smuggling community that this is not a place to come to and do business."

All things considered, Mascher believes the scarcity of crowds of men looking for day labor shows that illegal immigration to these parts is on the decline.

"We used to have a booming economy and lots of jobs that were filled by illegal immigrants," he said. "We used to have places where guys stood and waited for work in Ash Fork and Cornville but we just don't see that anymore. You add in the workplace enforcement and we just don't have the jobs we used to."

And the number of drug and human smugglers on the freeways has decreased, as well. Authorities believe the smugglers are consolidating their loads of drugs and/or immigrants in order to reduce their footprint on the roads.

"The troops are working hard and doing a great job," Mascher said. "I look at our K9 teams and they're making the same amount of stops as before and I ask them, where are the illegals? They tell me they're just not seeing them."

The same combination of factors has eased an aspect of the strain on the Adult Probation Department, according to Chief Billie Grobe.

"I suspect (the undocumented probationers) will probably leave (the country), and we'll see an increase in warrants," Grobe said in November 2007, anticipating the implementation of the Legal Arizona Workers Act.

She turned out to be right on the mark.

"When the (employer sanctions) law took effect, almost overnight, when the officers were out doing their work in the field, people were no longer at their addresses," Grobe said recently. "They had absconded."

She added that the department, pre-2008, had three Spanish-speaking-only caseloads of 60-65 cases each.

"We don't have that any more," Grobe said. "With those caseloads disappearing we were able to tighten our belts when belts needed tightening."


Staff Reporter

COTTONWOOD - Given the state of the economy and Arizona's legislative actions against undocumented immigrants, Cottonwood Town Council Member (and former mayor) Ruben Jauregui isn't surprised to see far fewer familiar faces around town and at his Wild West Haircutters salon, though he can't say for sure that any or all of the departees were undocumented.

"I've never been one to ask," Jauregui said. "There's a lot of Hispanic people that come here, and I don't ask if they're documented or not.

"I've had a lot of those that I knew by virtue of them coming to the shop, and I don't see them any more. You kind of get used to the sequence of their visits and then that all changed. Maybe a couple come by and said they were going to another state because they felt that Arizona was maybe the hotbed of the immigration issue. They cleared out of here and went somewhere that was maybe quieter and calmer."

Jauregui said he has asked himself if the effort to stem illegal immigration was rooted in economics or racial feelings, and wondered if the community is better off without the folks who traditionally have done a great deal of hard work.

"When everybody was employed and making money and doing good I don't think we paid attention to this so much," he said. "You'd hear a few grumblings of people when, for example, Bashas' changed their store into a Food City. People were saying they wouldn't go into a quote unquote Mexican store."

But Jauregui, born and raised in Flagstaff, remembers how the influx of migrant workers came about in the first place.

"You heard things like that but it didn't get to its peak until after 9/11," he said. "Prior to that, a lot of the immigrants would come and work agricultural and this had happened for decades. It was understood it was happening.

"But when the economy went bust and people started losing the jobs and some people saw that the immigrants weren't leaving after the season, we heard it a little more."

With terror in the air after the World Trade Center attacks, suspicion was on the rise. And even the mayor of Cottonwood, returning from visits to his daughter at the University of Arizona, was not immune to scrutiny. Jauregui said he was stopped three times by Border Patrol officers on the way home from such visits, encounters that left him beyond uncomfortable.

"All of a sudden, it didn't matter what side of the border you were born on, you were going to get scrutinized," he said. "There is a feeling of being degraded that comes along with that."

As a Hispanic man in public office, a veteran and the operator of a local business, Jauregui was a visible source for folks who wanted to vent their frustration at the state's increasing antipathy toward undocumented immigrants, as well as those whose family members had run into trouble with the "coyotes," whose business practices turned ever uglier.

Jauregui said he is amazed at the amount of money people pay human smugglers to bring them across the border, and frustrated at hearing how badly those sorts of deals can go.

"I had people come to me when I was mayor and say that the coyotes were holding their relatives and could I help," he said. "What can I do about that as the mayor of Cottonwood? I told them to call the law but, of course, they said they couldn't call the law."

All in all, Jauregui believes that the whole question has been handled with a large measure of fear and a shortage of compassion. He also laments that Arizona's position on the issue has all but eliminated the possibility of getting Mexico to help with the problem.

"Arizona has done more to damage any chance of establishing negotiations with Mexico than anybody," he said. "The politicians are pandering to the hysteria.

"But a lot of people are leaving the area, and I guess that makes some people happy."