TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The crisis at the border is creating serious challenges for the Arizona Sheriff who oversees Vekol Valley.
That’s the well-known corridor for drugs and human smuggling.
The signs are everywhere.
“Every which way, it is coming in the same ways. It’s just coming in at a much greater rate,” said Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.
Discarded items are being left behind by illegal crossers traveling through a hotspot for smuggling — Vekol Valley, an area south of I-8, near I-10.
It’s what Sheriff Lamb shows sheriffs across the country who want to see the crisis first hand.
“The carpet shoes, the backpacks, all this stuff littered in our desert,” said Lamb, “When they see that 60 to 70 miles from the border in my county, that has a lasting impact on them.”
The corridor is the last line of defense before smuggling enters Phoenix and beyond.
He’s seeing a dramatic rise in pursuits since the first of the year.
Lamb said, “We’ve had probably probably a hundred percent increase in pursuits with smugglers. Here’s two emails in the last 24 hours to 48 hours of pursuits ending in high-risk stops. And we had six on one vehicles and this one ended up having six or seven undocumented aliens in there. This is every day, sometimes twice a day.”
Trafficking has increased 200 fold, according to Lamb, who adds, “Nobody comes across this border without paying the cartel. They’re starting to wear wristbands because the cartel wants to make sure they’re paid before they come across.”
And many, Lamb said, are being forced to traffic drugs into the US.
Those backpacks can be filled with drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamines, which are smaller in size and now much easier to transport than pot.
“Now they carry hundreds thousands of dollars worth of drugs in a single backpack, a small backpack, like a child’s backpack,” he said.
Stats in Pinal County alone reveal --
2018 — deputies made 30 fentanyl seizures.
2019 — the number rose to 677
2020 — it jumped to more than 200,000
And this year so far (April), there more than 90,000 seizures — addictive drugs that are making their way into Arizona communities.
“That’s what we catch,” said Lamb, “And we don’t catch, but 10 to 15% of what comes into the country.”
Lamb said resources to capture smugglers is now spread thin. The added manpower to stop the surge in smuggling comes directly out of his budget.
He’s now hoping the federal government cracks down on illegal crosses and soon.
Lamb said, “It’s presenting a danger to the community, but it’s presenting a danger to us in law enforcement. It’s only a matter of time before that boils over.”
Meantime, over the next few months, his deputies will be out looking for those who leave trails of discarded items.
“My people will spend the majority of our time this summer doing humanitarian missions with border patrol where smugglers will leave people in the desert for dead and we will have to go find them,” said Lamb.