Border mayors to Sheriff Babeu: Cool it

Border mayors to Sheriff Babeu: Cool it

CREATED Jun 30, 2011

Reporter: Steve Nuñez
Web Producer: Layla Tang

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) – Three Arizona border mayors are calling on Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu to tone down his rhetoric when describing border crime along the border.  If that was their intent, it didn't work.  The letter they sent to Sheriff Babeu did more to spark a war of words than to create dialogue that aims to discuss border security.

The mayors responsible for the letter are Atruro Garino of Nogales; Juan Ascamilla of San Luis; and Dr. Michael Gomez of Douglas.  In the letter, they claimed Sheriff Babeu's "misstatements" are causing those who live and travel to the border to "fear for their safety."  Garino drafted the letter with the support from the other two mayors.  In response to previous claims made by Sheriff Babeu, Garino denied border crime along the border is out of control.

"This is not a war zone," Garino told 9 On Your Side's Steve Nuñez

"In the last 3 months, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed near Nogales.  Is that not a war zone?"  Nuñez asked.

"This is not a war zone." Garino responded again. 

Instead, Garino pointed to Sheriff Babeu for creating a war zone in Pinal County.  Babeu recently started his own task force to combat drug scouts and cartels who he says are posing a danger to his residents.  The Sheriff predicted within a matter of months his deputies would engage in a gun battle with drug cartels.

The mayors claimed Sheriff Babeu's prediction, not proven to be real yet, is cultivating a "culture of fear" that's doing more harm in "driving visitors away" then securing the border.

But Sheriff Babeu said he speaks the facts.  In a phone interview, Nuñez asked Sheriff Babeu if he would extend an olive branch to the mayors by toning down his rhetoric.  The Sheriff said no.

"We need to remain vigilant and not be lulled into a false sense of security which is where I think we are at," said Sheriff Babeu.   

Babeu claimed facts also speak of improved safety. He said his deputies have doubled the confiscation of drugs and have helped Border Patrol apprehend 241,000 illegal immigrants in the last year.

"We have a serious public safety threat in my county, due to an unsecured border with Mexico," said Sheriff Babeu. 

According to a report compiled by the City of Nogales, Garino claims crime is down 11% as a result of increased border security.  And while Sheriff Babeu points blame to the South, Garino said he could easily point blame north at Pinal County for crime coming south through his border city.

"There's been a lot of seizures on the southbound lanes on money on weapons," said Garino. "So, where's that coming from?"

Still, Sheriff Babeu said if the mayors really want to work together in securing the border, they should direct their letters to the Obama Administration, specifically Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and ask them to do more to seal the border.

In return, Sheriff Babeu called the mayors letter a political attack.

"It doesn't take somebody in law enforcement or politics to understand what they're motives are because if they were truly interested in dialogue that's meaningful they wouldn't have done this,"  Babeu said.

Sheriff Babeu said until the border is completely secured, the mayors should not expect him to tone down his rhetoric much less meet with them to discuss their concerns.  The mayor's letter did not mention or request a meeting.