Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies have placed crosses in the Arizona desert where border crossers have died in recent days, according to a statement released by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office. Arpaio believes that the white wooden crosses will serve as a deterrent for those considering crossing the border at the Gila Bend, where 14 border crossers have died since June.
In his statement, Arpaio said that the crosses will “serve as a reminder to those foolish enough to make the desert crossing in the face of the punishing reality that the desert kills.” The crosses will be numbered and given GPS coordinates as a way for distressed migrants who reach those locations to be easily located when they call 911.
Arpaio acknowledges that “border security is solely the responsibility of the Federal Government,” but instead of letting federal authorities handle immigration enforcement, he and his officers go on “mercy missions” to rescue immigrants in the desert. For that, he believes that “the Federal Government’s failure to secure the border should be a charge paid for by that government.”
But while his statement reads, “every life is precious…… it is our duty to preserve the peace and protect the public, no matter their national status or citizenry,” Arpaio has only helped to undermine immigration reform in Maricopa County. In a show of force that is uncharacteristic of preserving the peace, Arpaio recently made waves by equipping his officers with AR-15 rifles to carry at all times.
While these crosses will assuredly impose a visibly compelling landscape of a broken immigration system on the barren desert, Arpaio’s indiscriminate enforcement of federal immigration laws has hardly helped to fix the broken system. His immigration raids have forced the federal government to let go of scores of low-priority immigrants, some of whom are are U.S. citizens, on the basis of prosecutorial discretion.
This is not the first time that a border state official has exploited migrant deaths as a way to oppose undocumented migration. In a video released in May, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) visited unmarked graves of migrants who died along the Texas border. Cornyn used the video to condemn the Obama administration for not securing the border. Cornyn voted against the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, which would actually enforce strong border security provisions.