Pinal Co. Sheriff Paul Babeu: 'The border is not secure'

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PHOENIX -- While the Department of Homeland Security says it has made significant progress in securing our border with Mexico over the past few years, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says that's not the case.

"We hear the border is more secure than ever," Babeu said. "We obviously know different than that, having lived here, and the enforcement statistics prove it out."

According to Babeu, the Pinal County Sheriff's Office has seen a significant increase in drug seizures, vehicle pursuits, and calls to the U.S. Border Patrol for illegal immigrants.

In 2008, PCSO seized 19,618 pounds of marijuana. In 2010, that number jumped to 44,819.

PCSO deputies were involved in 140 pursuits in 2008, 289 in 2009, and 335 in 2010.

In 2008, there were 169 calls to the U.S. Border Patrol. That number increased to 270 in 2009, and 370 in 2010.

"If the border is more secure now than ever, how come we are seeing these dramatic increases?" asked Babeu in a news release. "Each and every time a vehicle flees from my deputies it puts them and everybody else on the roadway at risk. These numbers truly show the border is not secure and needs immediate attention.”

Although it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, numbers from DHS and the FBI paint a somewhat different picture.

According to statistics prepared by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, the number of violent crimes in Pinal County has dropped from 290 in 2007 to 214 in 2009.

But that's not all.

"The fact is the apprehensions that signify attempted illegal crossings in Arizona have decreased 69.75 percent from their high of 725,093 in FY2000 [fiscal year 2000] to 219,318 in FY2010," said DHS spokesman Matt Chandler. "The fact is that seizures of narcotics and other illicit goods are up across the board and show that our approach is working. Over the past two years, DHS has committed more personnel, technology and infrastructure to our nation’s southwest border and we continue to do so. The significant progress we have made in securing our border is due to the sacrifices of the men and women who work day in and day out on the frontline and we commend them.”

With some 20,500 agents -- more than double the number there were just six years ago -- the Border Patrol is better staffed than ever before.

While Babeu has been outspoken in his criticism of DHS, not all southern sheriffs share his views.

"In criticizing the commitment of Secretary Napolitano and her agency, which has sent historic levels of personnel, technology and other resources to the Southwest border over the past two years, Sheriff Babeu is spreading misleading information about the safety and security of Arizona communities," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada. "Not only that, but this misinformation drives potential visitors away from our county and hurts our local businesses. Of course, there is still work to do -- and we will continue to work closely with DHS and those law enforcement agencies who recognize the reality of the current situation to make even more progress in keeping Arizonans safe from border-related violence and crime."