A Steel Truth series on the Southern International Border
Mark Dannels, who began serving his third term as Cochise County Sheriff in January, has served during three different presidential administrations.
With his area of responsibility covering 360 square miles, including 83 miles of international border, Dannels said it is a challenge to provide public safety to the residents during a period of increased illegal immigration.
The rural county located in the southeast corner of the state, with a population of 125,000, is mostly high desert, with several compact mountain ranges, as well as national forests, monuments and scenic trails. It is also home to Fort Huachuca, headquarters of U.S. Army Intelligence Center, as well as Tombstone, the historic old western town and tourist attraction.
Because of illegal immigration changing from mostly working people to cartel-controlled smuggling in recent years, ranchers and hikers are often armed.
“We’re losing that element of border security in Cochise County,” said Dannels, 57, who came to Arizona as a young soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca. “The Tucson Border Patrol Sector is the second busiest on the Southwest Border. Since Biden took office our numbers are peaking. Our focus on border crimes has drastically increased.
“When President Biden declared the Southwest Border a non-emergency, that stopped the physical barrier (construction). That also stopped technology and resources, our subterranean sensors. Everything has stopped. Our (Border Patrol) checkpoints have been shut down in our county. We have a Border Patrol station that is shutting down.”
Dannels said Border Patrol agents, who normally interdict illegal aliens, including smugglers of narcotics and human traffickers, are now being redirected to work in childcare, administrative processing and other areas of the Southwest Border—despite the fact illegal immigration is rampant in his sector.
“We’ve seen a drastic change in what’s going on here, since this president’s taken office,” Dannels said. “We went 20 months without a drug load in Cochise County (during the Trump years), which is fabulous for a county like ours, which has been on the front line of smuggling for years.”
But in December alone, county officers confiscated 500 pounds of illicit drugs, and counted 2,500 illegal entries.
“We’re off the charts again, like we were in 2014 and 2019,” Dannels said referring to two of the worst surges in illegal immigration, before the Trump administration implemented successful measures to secure the border.
Dannels, who serves as Chairman of Border Security Committee of the National Sheriff’s Association and a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council, said he spoke regularly with Homeland Security officials during the Trump administration. He met with President Donald Trump in the White House, and his administration regularly consulted with border sheriffs.
But since Biden took office on Jan. 20, Dannels has been cut off from communication with federal officials—despite the fact he was on Biden’s transition team.
Dannels said he has not heard from Biden’s administration since Jan. 20, 2021. His calls and emails are not returned from administration officials.
Dannels said his department is unable to adequately protect the public from crime since the enormous increase of illegal aliens has occurred during the past two months.
“Thanks to the executive order, our deserts and our communities at the international border area are in disarray,” Dannels said. “We have cables out of the ground, we have holes in fences, we have infrastructure that wasn’t there, because they had to build roads around the mountains. Now the wall hasn’t been completed. They need to complete the project. It’s been budgeted, it’s been allotted. There’s no clarification, there’s no direction where this is going. It is in worse shape now than it was before.”
This 30-foot-high fence was almost completed along the 83 miles of border in Cochise County, the eastern county of Arizona. This is a culvert that was added, to control flooding and help Border Patrol agents to interdict illegal aliens. All construction was halted by Biden Executive Order on Jan. 20, leaving the road and fence unfinished.
Sheriff Dannels is pictured in 2017 at the former 12-foot-high fence in Naco, which was easily scaled by cartel smugglers.