Rockingham County is roughly 1,500 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, and while that might seem like quite a distance, illegal immigration has certainly found its way to us. Today, with nearly 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, immigration has become an issue that demands our attention. And that’s why, as both a sheriff and member of the National Sheriff’s Association, I believe that securing our borders is critical to both public safety and America’s national security.
My first personal experience with illegal immigration was in 1990, when I pulled up next to a broken-down car on the Interstate and found six unauthorized immigrants. I contacted federal immigration officials and, much to my surprise, was told to let them go if I hadn’t charged them with a crime.
I followed those instructions, but the idea of allowing six unauthorized immigrants – who are legally deportable – to just drive off, without any knowledge of who they were and why there were here, really bothered me.
Today, Mexican drug cartels control not only much of our border but also many of their drug routes within the U.S. In fact, most U.S. experts agree that just about all of the drugs coming into the United States are controlled by Mexican cartels. These cartels are incredibly dangerous, having murdered some 70,000 Mexican nationals in the last few years.
Completing the 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico, including double and triple layer fencing at high crossing areas, is critical, if for no other reason than to do our best to keep the cartel on its side of the border.
Human trafficking, which feeds violent prostitution rings and modern-day slavery schemes across the nation, is another issue that we find on our plates today. By enabling lax border enforcement, the U.S. State Department estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. Unfortunately, many traffickers operate here for years without being detected.
Our porous border has also been targeted by ISIS and its operatives, who have promised to exploit every avenue, including refugee flows, to enter the United States and wreak havoc among our citizens. These terrorists will continue to exploit our inadequate screening of travelers entering the U.S., open borders and lack of secure identity to gain a strong foothold in the U.S. and carry out their plots against us.
Whether it’s drug smuggling, human trafficking or threats from terrorism, their single common denominator is our open border. America’s sheriffs have been combating these issues for years and released a set of comprehensive recommendations to address the many immigration-related concerns. These include securing both our Northern and Southern border, enforcing immigration laws currently on the books, fully funding standing law enforcement initiatives and constructing adequate detention facilities to detail illegal and criminal immigrants.
This nation’s next president needs to take immigration reform seriously. A nation that can’t control its borders can’t control its destiny. And that’s not a proposition that should sit well with any of us in America.
Sheriff Sam Page lives in Rockingham County.