Southern Arizona Officials Tell Ducey National Guard is 'Not Needed' at Border

Hannah Critchfield
The border wall separating Yuma and Mexico along the Imperial Sand Dunes.
Earlier this week, Republican Governor Doug Ducey announced that he would deploy National Guard troops to the border to deal with the recent spike in undocumented immigrants getting apprehended at the Arizona-Mexico border. But Democratic officials in border counties are saying that the troops are unnecessary and that Ducey never asked for their input on the matter.

In a letter sent to Ducey on April 21, the Arizona Coalition of Border Counties — a group of officials from Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, and Yuma counties — claimed that the governor "failed to consult" with boards of supervisors in border counties and that the Arizona National Guard "is not needed for security." The signatories argued that what is really needed is assistance transporting asylum seekers who are released by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in border towns to large metro areas with adequate shelter services.

"We are disappointed that you failed to consult with the various Boards of Supervisors of each border county on this matter," the letter states. "If asked, we would have requested assistance for transportation services specifically buses and drivers to provide those transportation services that we are now left to arrange on our own."

"Border Counties have been subjected to this not well planned release of asylum seekers in our border communities," the letter continues. "We would ask you to reconsider this matter and provide immediate transportation services for asylum seekers that are released into the smaller communities of our border counties so that these individuals can be safely transported to transitional shelters operated largely by our faith based communities."

Ducey's announcement that he would deploy the  National Guard to the border followed a spree of appearances on Fox News and trips to the Arizona-Mexico border where he blamed the Biden administration for the recent spike in border crossings. Up to 250 troops will be deployed to "assist with medical operations in detention centers," install border cameras, collect data from public-safety cameras, and "analyze satellite imagery for current trends in smuggling corridors," according to the governor's office. Democratic Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone supports the move to send troops south, as do both of Arizona's Democratic Senators, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly.

Tony Reyes, the chairman of the Yuma County Board of Supervisors and one of the signatories, told Phoenix New Times that Ducey was using the border as a political talking point to criticize the Biden administration.

"If we have a humanitarian crisis , I don't see how deploying the National Guard — sending the military over here — solves anything," said Reyes, a Democrat. "It is a good way to make political points, but it's not a good way to solve the problem. We need more processing facilities, we need the federal officials to be able to transport people to bigger locations where they can handle it."

"Doing that without consulting anyone, it’s almost insulting. There’s no way to look at it other than political posturing," he added. "It's more focused on making the current administration look bad than actually solving the problem."

Another signatory of the letter, Sharon Bronson, the Democratic chair of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, said that communication isn't Ducey's strong suit.

"Governor Doug Duey never checks in. We learn when there is a press release or something like that, but we never hear directly," she said. "There’s no direct communication — hasn't been whether it’s Covid or the border."

Some communication between Ducey's office and law enforcement officials in the region apparently did take place. Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot, a Republican, told New Times that he supports the decision to send National Guard troops to the border and that he was briefed on Ducey's plan prior to his public announcement.

"I support what Governor Doug Ducey is doing to assist law enforcement along the border ... It frees up my officers to be able to go out into the field," he said. "It’s unfortunate in my eyes that those boards of supervisors would be so disconnected from their law enforcement that they would even consider writing something like that."

But not all sheriffs in the borderlands think alike. Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway, who is a Democrat, said that he and Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos, also a Democrat, don't want National Guard troops in their counties. Hathaway said that the number of migrants apprehended at the border so far this year is nowhere near as high as it was between the 1980s and the early 2000s.

"I was contacted by the National Guard general asking me if I wanted National Guard troops deployed to help the Sheriff's Office and I declined that and said 'No, we don't need that, we don’t have a border crisis'," he said. "About a month ago when Ducey started talking about National Guard on the border, I asked for a meeting with him to tell him the reality of what's going on down here and not the hype but I was not offered a meeting."

"If they want the opinion from somebody as far as border issues they should come down to Nogales and ask us," he added. "It would seem like it would matter what’s going on in Nogales. So far, I have witnessed Ducey making fact-finding trips to Cochise and Yuma county but not to our county."

Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos said that he has not heard from staff with the National Guard or the governor's office and that he would have declined any offer to deploy troops if he was asked.

"If the governor is really interested in assisting law enforcement in his counties, I could use a lot of assistance. I could use some body cameras at about two million dollars and i could use some electronic monitors to lower the incarceration rates in my jail," he said. "I just have enough to do here in my job without playing politics and that’s all they’re doing. This is getting tiring."

CJ Karamargin, a spokesperson for Ducey, did not respond to New Times' request for comment on the letter. John Mennell, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, referred New Times to the governor's office when asked if the agency had requested Arizona National Guard troops at the border.