WILLCOX — Alexander Blais, the Border Patrol agent in charge of the Willcox Station, spoke to an almost full room of locals and City Council members, as well as those joining via Zoom, last Thursday night during the council meeting.
Blais spoke about the history of undocumented immigrants from Mexico illegally coming into southern Arizona seeking asylum status. Under the previous presidential administration, these undocumented immigrants were arrested, assigned a court date to prove they didn’t have a criminal record and were held in detention until their court date.
Some were released early due to a combination of limited available space in detention centers and legal limits on how long women and children could be detained.
Under the Biden Administration, the new policy is that undocumented immigrants seeking asylum status are arrested, assigned a court date and then released with the hope that they will show up for their future court date.
Blais explained how the current situation would potentially find its way into Willcox.
According to Blais, if the other Border Patrol stations in the Tucson Sector, located in Why, Casa Grande, Tucson, Nogales, Sonoita, Douglas, Bisbee and Three Points, should become overwhelmed with the number of undocumented immigrants they are processing after arresting them at one of the three Southern Arizona border crossings, then those undocumented immigrants would be transported to the Willcox Border Patrol Station.
Some audience members found the news disturbing and began a discussion with Blais about potential problems the city might see.
Some audience members spoke out on the issue more than once. Some questions from Willcox locals were:
What changes do we expect to see in Willcox as far as the impact?
How will Border Patrol arrest and then release them?
What are you going to do in terms of damage to people’s vehicles when they come in?
Who is going to handle that?
How do I handle that?
Blais attempted to calm down the crowd before turning things back to Mayor Mike Laws.
“The current terms of the law is to ensure expedited release,” Blais said. “Our role is to process those people. The current administration has suspended the current migrant protection for those coming from Mexico. That is what we’re talking about.”
Councilman Paul Sheats asked Blais about the processing of undocumented immigrants who bring paperwork with them.
“Those who have been waiting, they will be processed,” Blais said. “We don’t expect that happening here in Willcox, because we are far away from the border.”
A woman in the audience was concerned about lack of knowledge of the criminal records of the undocumented immigrants from Mexico seeking asylum.
Laws told her to call the police or sheriff, saying “it doesn’t matter where they’re from, if they break the law, then they will be arrested.”
Blais spoke about how undocumented immigrants will be tested for illness.
“Everyone that comes to us undergoes a domestic intake,” Blais said. “They undergo medical processing until they are determined physically fit.”
Blais said Border Patrol won’t test undocumented immigrants for COVID-19. He repeated that comment over the phone with Laws on Monday. Both times he cited a lack of resources to do anything more than have medical staff inspect them for COVID-19 symptoms.
A total of 934 positive COVID-19 cases have been reported by Arizona Border Patrol Stations. according to cbp.gov.
Councilman Carl Hestand asked Blais for clarification on the possibility of other stations sending undocumented immigrants to Willcox and what that process would involve.
They will be released at the Texaco,” Blais said. “Wherever they are, we will need protection in place.”
“We need more cops here,” Laws said. “If I am given the resources from the federal government, then I can do something.”
The Texaco in Willcox is located at 1203 W. Rex Allen Drive, near Interstate 10. Greyhound Bus tickets are sold there that immigrants would be expected to pay for.
Sheriff offers solutions
Laws called on Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels, who was in attendance, to speak on the issue. Dannels provided the restless crowd with answers to their questions.
“Public safety, national security and the lack of humanitarianism is being discussed here tonight,” Dannels said. “We agree with you on all three of them. Sheriffs and police chiefs are experts at community. Our federal partners are experts of national security and border security. Collectively it’s a recipe of success.
“That’s something we preach very hard at the federal level. Every decision, as I’ve said, as I sit in D.C., at DPS meetings or if I’m in front of Congress, is always about if decisions are being made in Washington D.C.; how does it positively affect our communities, and if it doesn’t ,you need to rekindle and rethink about what your doing.
“I preach that really hard. I think that it’s important to have a community voice.”
Dannels discussed his recent communication with leaders at the local, state and federal level and why he believes more needs to be done.
“When all these changes started happening, the first question again is why?” Dannels said. “Why the hasty decision and who makes it? I immediately reached out to our governor. I’ve reached out to mayors.
“Your mayor and I have talked. Other mayors have talked. I talked to the police chief. If you want a collaborative effort and you want to share a mission, you’ve got to bring it to the table.
“I sent a letter to the two U.S. Senators in this state. I never even heard back from Sen. Kelly. We got an email back from Sen. Sinema’s staff. I sent an email on behalf of the Arizona sheriffs.
“Folks I’m kind of nuclear about this, get your state and local-elected figures engaged. We share one common thing under oath to office, whether you’re sheriff, judge, police chief, it is to protect Americans. It’s bothersome where we’re at with this whole thing.”
Dannels discussed an email from the secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.
“There’s an email out from the secretary right now that says that they’re going to do this, cost is not a factor and they got a steering committee to get this done,” Dannels said. “Alex, I don’t think you’ve even seen this, you probably have, but there’s no local health department talk. There’s no emergency coordinators on it. There’s no sheriffs on it.
“There’s no police chiefs on it. Local is the byproduct of this.
“We are not going to tell sheriffs or police chiefs to come into your community. We’re almost like the bad guys and our responsibility is I don’t work for Washington D.C. and I don’t work for the government. I work for all you people in this room.”