Most people don’t understand the extent to which the Border Patrol and other law enforcement become humanitarian and first-aid responders for illegal immigrants trying to enter the United States, says Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County, Arizona. In a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, I spoke with Lamb, whose county is about 60 miles from it. Lamb joins the podcast to talk about this largely unknown humanitarian aspect of policing the border. Read the lightly edited interview, posted below, or listen to the podcast:
We also cover these stories:
- A case about Philadelphia’s authority to exclude a Catholic charity agency that won’t allow same-sex couples to adopt children is headed to the Supreme Court.
- Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is found guilty of two of five charges of sexual assault and faces up to 25 years in prison.
- President Donald Trump, touring India, is greeted with a large dose of spectacle.
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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Sheriff Mark Lamb of Pinal County in Arizona. Sheriff Lamb, thank you so much for being with us today.
Sheriff Mark Lamb: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Del Guidice: To start off, you work in a border county in Arizona. What kinds of things do you see and experience in your work as a sheriff day to day?
Lamb: Well, one of the interesting things is we’re not right on the border. We’re about 60 miles off the border. But what we have in our county is on the south end, we have a Native American community and that Native American reservation actually goes into Mexico. We deal with the smugglers in the cartel pushing bodies and drugs through the desert area.
Right on the other side, there’s three-strand barbed wire fence, maybe some Normandy barrier. They come through there and come right into our county. We’re the first county that you get to once you get off the reservation.
Del Guidice: I’m here this week with a bunch of lawmakers and some other media, and you were talking to all of us earlier today about the drug trafficking crisis that you see on a day-to-day basis. Can you tell us about that?
Lamb: I tell people all the time, this isn’t about immigration anymore. This is about drug trafficking and human trafficking into this country. We work hard because we understand that … it’s going to make it to our communities, but also it’s going to make it all across America.
We see what the cartel’s doing. They’re trying to bring, like I said, human beings into this country, they’re trying to bring drugs into this country, and we feel a responsibility to be able to stop that before it gets across America.
Del Guidice: Can you tell us when you pick someone up, what the procedure is and then what kinds of things you see that these people leave in the remnant as they go on their way?
Lamb: It really just depends on where we’re at. If they’re on the reservation, obviously, we’ll be doing an operation in conjunction with Border Patrol, because they’re the ones that actually have the ability to enforce immigration out there.
Now, if they come into the county, then what we’re looking for, obviously, is drugs and human beings that are coming into the country. So we work in conjunction with Border Patrol and ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. They’re amazing partners. We’ve had a great working relationship with them.
Honestly, if we didn’t have a good working relationship with all of our federal partners and local partners, we wouldn’t have near the success, and so we work together.
Typically, if they’re caught on the reservation and we’re working with them, most of the time the Border Patrol will take them back, probably take them back to Mexico or wherever they came from.
If we catch them in the county and let’s say they’re in possession of drugs when we catch them, then, obviously, we’re going to book them into our jail for being in possession of drugs, with intent to sell. If they don’t have any drugs, then we have to just turn them back over to Border Patrol or ICE.
Del Guidice: What is the system that these cartel members use for when they’re about ready to traffic something across the border? What are kind of the steps that they run from when they’re still in Mexico to once they’re past the border? What is their mode of operation?
Lamb: That’s a great question, what their mode of operation is. One of the unique things that we deal with is, it’s not really unique to our county, but they’re trying to make it through the desert.
Most of the people we come in contact with are wearing camouflage clothes. They have a camouflage backpack, they have carpet shoes, which is literally what it sounds like. They’ll take a piece of carpet and fashion it into a shoe that goes over your boot or your shoe and they’ll wear those shoes because what it does is not only does it mask the sound of them traveling through the desert, but it’s hard to track them because they don’t really leave footprints.
On one side they’ll prepare, the cartel will charge them and it can run in 3,500 to $5,000 to get over here to this side. Sometimes they’ll require them to carry drugs as well and then they will give them a backpack with some toiletries and the carpet shoes and they’ll have some camouflage clothes.
We know it’s kind of a standard issue because it’s always the same type of equipment. It’s always the same backpacks, for the most part, same type of clothing.
They want to get into this country, and so it’s a cat and mouse game. We have to try to track them down and they’re trying to avoid being detected.
Del Guidice: What does that tracking down look like? What kind of things are you looking for and what kind of systems do you use to spot this and then to try to address it?
Lamb: We use multiple things. We’ve got sensors, we use cameras, we also have a few helicopters here, and we have a plane that belongs to Border Patrol, but border patrol has allowed us to use it.
We fly missions all the time. A lot of our success comes from our aviation unit. Obviously, from the air, we’re able to see these folks a lot easier, but we also use the sensors and we have an anti-smuggling unit that’s dedicated to stopping them.
Sometimes you’ll catch somebody and you’ll work that person and hopefully they give you information as to when groups are coming across.
… Just like a drug case, you’ll have people that might give you information or they hit our sensors or one of our cameras and we try to get our guys over to that area as quick as possible to see if we can intercept them.
Del Guidice: … The activity of the drug cartels, how does that affect Arizonans but also Americans across the country?
Lamb: Anytime you’re trafficking human beings and drugs into a community, it has an effect, and it usually has an adverse effect.
Some of these women are being trafficked for sex here. Obviously, the drugs—we’ve all seen the damage that these drugs are doing in America.
The opioid epidemic was the cartel, they made gazillions of dollars off of that and we, the people here in America, we paid the price for it.
It used to be that somebody who is dealing with drug addiction in this country, it didn’t happen to every family. Now, every family has been touched in some way, shape, or form by the negative effects of drugs and how damaging they are on not only a person, but on families in our communities.
It’s important for us that we stop it here in Arizona. Unfortunately, for everybody else in the country, Arizona is not where the cartel wants their product to end up. This isn’t where they want the humans or the drugs to be because this is where they get the least amount of money for their product.
They really want that product to go all throughout America. It’s designed to make it to places like Ohio and Kentucky and Illinois where the cost of the drugs goes up substantially and where you have higher rates of addiction to these drugs.
We don’t just try to protect our communities here in Pinal County or Arizona. We’re actually trying to protect communities across this country because we’re all in this fight together.
Del Guidice: You mentioned the problem of sex trafficking and also I’ve heard people talk about when people come over and have to pay cartels, sometimes there’s indentured servanthood that goes on when they have to pay the cartel back.
Could you address those two problems, the sex trafficking situation as well as the indentured servanthood angle? Does that happen? And what have you seen in relation to those two different situations?
Lamb: You’re exactly right. There’s a lot of facets to it. Sometimes you’ll have women that will pay to come into the country with sex. Sometimes you’ll have women who will agree to be trafficked for a couple of years as their payment to come into this country. Sometimes you actually have people that pay the cartel and then they get here and then the cartel extorts them for more money and holds them for ransom until their families pay more money than what they’ve already paid.
Five thousand dollars for somebody coming from Central America or Mexico is a lot of money. Then … they get here and they say, “Well, you owe us another 2,500.”
Several years ago, Phoenix was actually the kidnapping capital of the world. A lot of it was because they were finding these homes where 30 people would be holed up in a house in Phoenix because the cartel was holding them, extorting them for more money.
It’s such a huge problem and this is one of the things that we try to make people across country aware of, that it doesn’t matter what political party you are or what you’ve heard on the media. If you care about human beings, you should absolutely care about border security because the cartel is abusing people and they’re abusing people in our communities by bringing these drugs in.
Del Guidice: Recently, the director of Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, he had mentioned that a hundred miles, I think, of border wall has been now set along the U.S.-Mexico border. Has the drug trafficking problem been affected by that at all or is that a completely different situation?
Lamb: No, I believe it’s been affected. I think that this administration—not I think, I know this administration’s policies and the different things that they’ve done, the talks of doing some tariffs that got Mexico to help in this issue and we’ve definitely seen a reduction in not only the drugs coming in, but we’ve seen a reduction in the people being trafficked.
Does that mean it stopped? No, we still have a big problem, but it’s great to see an administration that’s dedicated to protecting America and protecting our borders and [that] understand[s] how important border security is to this entire country. That has helped us be able to do our mission better.
I think we’ve seen some results already, the reduction in drugs and people. So, obviously, what we’re doing is working.
Del Guidice: We’ve talked a lot about the drug problem at the border. What is your perspective on other problems you see at the border? What are some major issues or problems that you see should be worked on next or addressed next?
Lamb: I think you’ve got to first and foremost secure the border. I think that’s so important … It’s not only important for human rights, for keeping people from being trafficked by the cartels, it’s not only important for keeping drugs out of our communities, but we’ve seen recent violence with the cartel.
This is a national security issue too, being able to protect people here in America from that spillover of violence that the cartels are so intimately involved with. Being able to protect our communities, our American citizens from that violence is paramount. Border security has so much to it.
Once we are able to secure those borders better, which I know is the goal and it’s going to take some time, then … we need to continue to support local law enforcement—which can assist Border Patrol and their missions—and we need to continue to take that fight to the cartels and hopefully weaken them to the point where we can start to really impact the flow of people and drugs in this country.
Del Guidice: You mentioned just now that the border security crisis, it is a national security issue. Can you talk a little bit more about that and why it affects so many other facets of American life?
Lamb: We’ve at war with ISIS for what, 20 years or different, but here in the communities, we’re not worried about ISIS.
People are worried their kids getting hooked on drugs. They’re worried about their daughter being trafficked for sex. They’re worried about the violence from the cartels spilling over into their communities. They’re worried about the violence that exists with local gangs that are predominantly driven by the drug trade.
These are the things that keep Americans up at night. These are the national security things for us here.
We’ve never once had an ISIS issue here in this county, so we’ve got to focus on the things that my people worry about, the things that are affecting the families and not only our county, but across this country. That’s attacking the drugs and the human trafficking.
Del Guidice: Seeing what you experience every day in your line of work, what is something that most surprises you or most frustrates you about what you do in your job and what you witness from day-to-day experiences?
Lamb: It’s going to sound pretty strong, but it doesn’t surprise me. But I think what frustrates me is the ignorance that exists in Washington and with a lot of people throughout this country. People that are supposed to know, people that are actually voting on these issues, the ignorance that they actually have to the real issues and their lack of motivation to come out and actually understand the problem.
If I was dealing with an issue, if I was representing my community and there was an issue that I didn’t understand, I would make an effort to go out and understand it so that I can make an intelligent vote on it.
Nothing frustrates us more in law enforcement than to watch these folks get on television and talk as if they know and they don’t. I think that frustrates us.
Luckily, we do have people in our corner fighting … And, look, in the end, we don’t do this for the money. We do it because we love what we do, and we love our country, and we love our communities, and that’s why we do this.
Del Guidice: I wanted to get your perspective too on people’s thoughts and perspective on Border Patrol.
I was recently reading an article, I think it was in September 2019. Actually, [it was in] The New York Times, it ran with the headline, “‘People Actively Hate Us’: Inside the Border Patrol’s Morale Crisis.”
What is your perspective on this? And I’m sure you must see some of this day to day, so what are your thoughts on this?
Lamb: It’s sad. It’s sad that people think that of Border Patrol because these are good men and women that go out and do this job every day. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much they care and what they do.
We do a lot of humanitarian stuff. I think a lot of people would be surprised as to understand how much time and resources we dedicate to saving people out in the desert.
If you’re in the desert and you call 911, it goes to Border Patrol. Let’s say somebody says, “Hey, you got a group of 10 smugglers coming through,” and they say, “Hey, this guy’s not doing well, so we’re going to leave him right here underneath this tree.” Well, guess what? We care enough to where we actually go out and try to find that guy, and we understand it may be a diversion tactic …
I’ll give you an example. We were with Border Patrol and we got a 911 call for a guy that the cartel had left behind. His group kept going.
When we finally did find him, which take us some time, he was laying underneath the palo verde tree and we had to give him three bags of IV just to bring them back. They had left and basically for dead.
While we were dealing with him and treating him, there was seven more 911 calls on the board for either hurt or lost people from the smuggling groups—seven more.
They used it as a diversionary tactic, but regardless of that, those men and women of Border Patrol and those people that are working with them on their mission are dedicated to saving lives.
I think that people would be shocked to know how many lives they save every year. Then to be accused of not caring is honestly so irresponsible, and it’s coming from the same people that we’ve elected throughout this country to represent us. It’s reckless and irresponsible.
Del Guidice: Thank you for sharing that and giving us some really good perspective.
Going back to all the humanitarian work you all do, I know you said earlier today when we were talking that it varies from the time of year, but can you talk about percentages? About what happens during the summer and how much of that is humanitarian versus like winter months and spring, cooler months?
As well, can you address too just how your resources are allocated and how things end up going toward humanitarian efforts when in fact, if our systems were more reformed, it would be going to actually secure the border?
Lamb: We have several different things. We have our aviation unit, which we work a lot with Border Patrol through Stonegarden. We also have our anti-smuggling unit, which we work with Border Patrol and ICE. We have guys attached to our anti-smuggling … Those guys are dedicated to trying to stop the trafficking into this country.
We spend a lot of resources, a lot of fuel for our helicopters. I have multiple helicopters and the plane, like I had mentioned, so we spend a lot of resources. I only have so many pilots, so my pilots have to dedicate to that.
Now, obviously, for us, the busy times are going to be between probably about September, October through about March because the weather’s cooler here in Arizona and so it’s a lot easier for them to travel.
We have to do a lot more humanitarian work in the summer months because it’s hot and a lot of these people aren’t prepared, and their equipment is lackluster.
They’re carrying a 50-pound pack of marijuana on their back and it’s a rudimental two straps and a couple of 25-pound bells tied up with baling string. It’s not something you get at REI, it’s not a great backpack.
We spend a lot of time trying to help those people in the summer and trying to at the same time track these groups down that the cartel will use to smuggle people in and out.
Del Guidice: You had mentioned too earlier today when we were talking that in order for actual border security and reform to happen, there needs to be some sort of border security in Indian reservations. What would that look like?
Lamb: We do a great job working together, and I know Border Patrol works very well together with the reservation. They’re limited on their resources as well. We all are, and the cartel knows that. They know where our soft spots are and they know where we’re vulnerable.
The reservation, I’m sure they do the best job they can. I don’t have any jurisdiction on the reservation unless my guys are working in conjunction with Border Patrol. But it’s definitely something that we have to constantly work together.
Now, they fight an uphill battle because, just like anywhere, they have members of their community … who might assist the cartels in bringing those humans and the drugs into our country.
They’re doing the best they can, and we do the best we can to work with them. But they are a sovereign nation, and I respect that sovereignty that they have.
Del Guidice: Last question, in the media coverage, you see of the situation at the border, what would you say the media is not reporting about?
Lamb: Oh, I’d say the media is getting most of it wrong. Obviously, Fox does a pretty decent job. I’ve seen a lot of their reports. I think that there’s a lot of media that doesn’t come out here. Like, I’ve been out here now for three years. I’ve invited congressmen out, I’ve invited senators out, I’ve invited media to come out. I have yet to have CNN call and want to come out or some of these other places.
Likewise, I’ve had only Republican senators and congressmen that have made the trip to come out and actually understand what the issues are that we’re dealing with. Thank you to those men and women who have come out and seen it firsthand because that’s what enables us to be able to go do our job.
I would love to see more factual reporting, less bias in what they’re doing and really just come out and illustrate for the people what is the problem.
… I speak around and, obviously, I have people on both sides of both parties in my county, and I tell them, “Put your politics aside, … I’m telling you, as the sheriff of this county, that we have issues with the cartel and we have border security issues, they need to be addressed.”
Del Guidice: Well, Sheriff Lamb, thank you so much for joining us today on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Lamb: Thank you. Thanks for having me, and thank you for coming down and seeing it yourself. You’re one of those people that have taken the time and I appreciate it, and kudos to you.
Del Guidice: Well, thank you.