Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pinal County sheriff, residents plead for anti-smuggling help

But in July, the Murphrees saw more than the occasional mountain lion. For at least three days, a man appeared to be surveying the area from a cave on the mountainside. The Pinal County Sheriff's Office believes that man, a Mexican national who has since been deported, was a lookout for smugglers. "It's scary," Pennee Murphree said. "We just want the public to know it's close and it's real and there's a criminal element there." The Murphrees and other residents told their stories Wednesday alongside Sheriff Paul Babeu, who is calling for more federal help while at the same time asking the county to fund an anti-smuggling unit of his own. Babeu said government officials have been dismissive of his claims of escalating violence associated with illegal immigration and drug smuggling. He said 14 bodies - all connected to drug or human smuggling - were found in the Pinal County desert between January and August and that Sheriff's Office calls for assistance from the U.S. Border Patrol through July nearly topped all requests for help made last year. Residents are also reporting more run-ins with smuggling elements, Babeu said. Nancy Henderson was at work last Tuesday when her home outside Arizona City was burglarized, presumably by smugglers or illegal immigrants. Gone were a cache of guns, batteries, food, night vision gear and socks. Tracks from her home led into the desert. "This isn't happening at the border," Henderson said. "This is happening in my backyard, and I strongly believe if something's not done now to stop these people, it's going to be in all your backyards before long. . . . This is America, the land of the free, and I don't feel free right now."...more

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