A Small Arizona Town Prepares to Fight State Over Illegal Immigration

A Small Arizona Town Prepares to Fight State Over Illegal Immigration
(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Getty Images, James Fee, Public Domain, Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
February 10, 2024
Updated:
February 10, 2024

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz.—As a small rural town in Arizona, Springerville has what it needs in terms of material amenities for its residents. There’s a general store, a small regional hospital, a supermarket, retail shops, hotels and restaurants, and parks for recreational vehicles during the tourist season.

The town’s closest neighbor is Eagar (population 4,800). The nearest city is Show Low (population 11,732), about 50 miles southwest across vast golden hills and open range.

“The one thing I pride myself on with this little community is we band together,” Springerville’s Mayor Shelly Reidhead told The Epoch Times. “We love each other, and we take care of each other.

“I hope that holds when it hits the fan.”

Although Springerville sits 300 miles from the U.S.–Mexico border, the illegal immigration crisis almost landed on its doorstep last year.

This year, Ms. Reidhead fears another showdown with her state officials if the border crisis grows much worse.

“I’ve been dreading 2024 because I know what we’re in for [with the presidential election]. It’s not going to be a pretty year.”

In May 2023, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and her staff pushed the idea of busing illegal aliens to Springerville and housing them in the 189,000-square-foot dome stadium, the Round Valley Ensphere.

The Round Valley Ensphere can seat up to 5,500 spectators, in Springerville, Ariz., on Feb. 7, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
The Round Valley Ensphere can seat up to 5,500 spectators, in Springerville, Ariz., on Feb. 7, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

When residents found out, they were furious and prepared to take action.

Some wanted to block the buses carrying the illegal immigrants at the town line with chain barriers—and come armed if necessary, according to residents who didn’t want their names used.

It was a tense situation, they said. Fortunately, the confrontation never came about after the town told the governor’s office to get lost.

The stadium looks like a giant flying saucer landed in the middle of horse and cattle country. It’s a massive wooden-dome stadium that can seat 5,500 spectators in bleachers away from the elements.

Due to its sheer size, the futuristic-looking enclosure has multiple uses. Years ago, it provided temporary shelter for displaced wildfire victims.

The Arizona governor eyed it up to temporarily place illegal immigrants.

But, the town moved against it.

On July 19, 2023, Springerville’s town council passed a binding resolution, signed by the mayor, that said “no” to the town footing the bill for immigrants—illegal or legal.

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An outside view of the Round Valley Ensphere dome stadium in Springerville, Ariz., on Feb. 7, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“The town is a small municipality with limited buildings, space, and material resources to accept, house, maintain, or support migrants,” the two-page resolution reads.

But, legally, it could take more than a binding resolution to prevent the state from dropping off busloads of illegal aliens and creating problems for the town, Ms. Reidhead said.

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Located in Apache County, Springerville ranks among the state’s poorest communities, with 1,730 residents and a median income of $46,311 in 2022.

Almost 12 percent live below the poverty line.

“You’re in cowboy country here,” said Ms. Reidhead, who takes a hard line over illegal immigration and protecting her community’s traditional way of life.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Ms. Hobbs’s office, which has yet to respond.

Ms. Reidhead and other town officials have been keeping a close eye on the southern border since President Joe Biden took office.

“What [the Biden administration] wants is a broken, chaotic country,” Ms. Reidhead said. “They’re doing a good job.”

“We can’t even feed the people in the United States now. How are we going to feed another 8 million people?”

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data, border agents apprehended more than 2.4 million illegal aliens at the southern border during the fiscal year spanning October 2022 through September 2023. Another 189,402 were encountered along the northern U.S. border.

CBP has already reported nearly 989,000 illegal immigrants during the first quarter of fiscal 2024.

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Illegal immigrants wait to be processed by U.S. border authorities after spending the night in the desert in Lukeville, Ariz., on Dec. 5, 2023. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Officials say that illegal border crossings have begun to shift away from the embattled 1,254-mile southern border in Texas and to Arizona and California as the Lone State state battles with the Biden administration over border security in Texas.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott has so far prevailed in his state’s efforts to increase border security, but he’s being sued by the Biden administration over several measures, including concertina wire, river buoys, and new state legislation.

In Arizona

In December 2023, CBP temporarily closed Arizona’s Lukeville shared port of entry with Mexico due to a surge in illegal crossings.

Later that month, Ms. Hobbs ordered the deployment of Arizona’s National Guard to assist Border Patrol agents in Lukeville with processing foreign nationals who entered the country illegally.

The governor has deflected criticism over her handling of the border crisis in Arizona onto the federal government.

“Yet again, the federal government is refusing to do its job to secure our border and keep our communities safe,” Ms. Hobbs said in a Dec. 15 statement announcing the deployment of National Guardsmen.

“With this executive order, I am taking action where the federal government won’t. But we can’t stand alone; Arizona needs resources and manpower to reopen the Lukeville crossing, manage the flow of migrants, and maintain a secure, orderly, and humane border,” she said.

“Despite continued requests for assistance, the Biden administration has refused to deliver desperately needed resources to Arizona’s border.”

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers remarks at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, Ariz., on Sept. 28, 2023. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers remarks at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, Ariz., on Sept. 28, 2023. (Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

The closure has had a negative impact on the handful of shops and businesses operating in Lukeville, an unincorporated village with just 35 residents.

On Jan. 4, CBP reopened the port of entry following an apparent seasonal decline in illegal encounters and dismantled a nearby makeshift station used to process new arrivals.

Standing at the “gastrak” fueling station, Cameron Syke of Colorado was busy filling his car with gas after crossing back into the United States through the Lukeville port of entry.

“It’s great that it’s open,” said Mr. Syke, a pastor and member of the charitable nonprofit Voice for Children International based in Denver.

Mr. Syke said the port of entry closure hurt not only shops doing business in Lukeville but also those in the border town of Sonoyta in Sonora, Mexico.

He said the towns’ commercial synergy is a “world-class example of how two cities—two countries—should operate.

“To have it closed down was horrible for everybody. I’ve got friends on both sides that go back and forth—Mexican, American. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Mr. Syke, who owns property in Arizona, said he uses the Lukeville crossing for his pastoral work in Mexico about once a month.

The closure “interrupted things,” he said.

“It interrupted going down [to Mexico]. It is the first time I’ve had my place rented since New Year’s Eve because of this.

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Pastor Cameron Syke of Denver pumps gas into his car by the Lukeville Port of Entry in Lukeville, Ariz., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“I think that as a country, we should have been looking at how we can support South American countries better with aid and sending jobs down there instead of having them all come [into the U.S.] illegally.”

“It’s just not workable, man.”

At another gas pump, Tom Lucas of Boise, Idaho, was on his way home from Rocky Point in Mexico.

“The weather. You can’t beat this time of year.”

He said he was pleased with the reopening of the Lukeville crossing, which shaved miles off his road trip.

“You'd have to go another 100 miles” to cross, Mr. Lucas told The Epoch Times. “The roads have some pretty big potholes. We came in at night, and that’s dangerous.”

The makeshift CBP station on national park land about a mile away was like a ghost town compared to the hundreds of illegal immigrants being processed every day in early December.

Only two large tents remained, along with a table stacked with bottles of water.

Tom Lucas of Boise, Idaho, waits by his car at the Lukeville Port of Entry in Lukeville, Ariz., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)
Tom Lucas of Boise, Idaho, waits by his car at the Lukeville Port of Entry in Lukeville, Ariz., on Feb. 3, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

At the port of entry in Sasabe, Arizona (population 54), four men from Sudan sat side-by-side in front of the U.S. Post Office as they waited for a Border Patrol vehicle to come and pick them up for processing.

Ahmed Abakar, 26, said he and his friends had just crossed into the United States from Mexico after a long jetliner journey from Turkey to Columbia.

The four consider themselves asylum seekers, fleeing civil war and bloodshed in Sudan.

“Very bad. Genocide,” Mr. Abakar told The Epoch Times in broken English. “Very hard. Dangerous.”

The monthlong journey was grueling enough, he said. But nobody in his group had expected the extreme cartel violence while traveling north through Mexico.

“There’s a war [among] the cartels in Sonora. Lots of [expletive],” Mr. Abakar said. “Bullets. It’s a dangerous place.”

Mr. Abakar said he was a student majoring in civil engineering. He said he hopes to find a “better life” in the United States.

None of the group members had a final destination in mind, but New York City was a distinct possibility.

Mr. Abakar said he is aware of the illegal immigrant influx in New York City, with over 100,000 new arrivals in the past year alone.

Still, he said he is willing to take his chances on the streets of the Big Apple.

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Four Sudanese men wait for their ride outside the U.S. Post Office at the Sasabe Port of Entry in Sasabe, Ariz., on Feb. 4, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

“There are lots of cities,” Mr. Abakar added.

Ms. Reidhead said that Springerville’s limited resources, housing, and job opportunities make it an unlikely destination choice for illegal immigrants.

“My biggest concern is all the property north of our town is state trust land. We have no jurisdiction over that. They could come in and put a tent city out there, and there’s not a dang thing we could do to stop it,” Ms. Reidhead said.

The governor’s office has yet to return phone calls from town officials regarding the possible use of the dome stadium to house illegal immigrants.

Tim Rasmussen, Springerville’s town manager, said Eagar’s mayor and Apache County Emergency Management also received phone calls from the governor’s office last May about taking in illegal aliens.

However, he said it’s not up to the county to decide how the dome stadium should be used.

“The high school dome is Round Valley [school] district property. In the town of Springerville, we took the stance that we did not want that to happen. Apache County took the same stance, and the town of Eagar did as well,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

“There was no support at all to bring anybody up here. We’re one of the poorest counties. We don’t have housing for the people that live here. Where would people go if they bused them up here? They would be utilizing our resources.”

The backlash among residents was immediate and determined, he said.

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The town hall in Springerville, Ariz., on Feb. 7, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Residents were “actually talking about creating chains to prevent buses from entering Round Valley,” Mr. Rasmussen said. “There are a lot of people who carry guns up here.”

“To me, it’s just mind-boggling they would call the county and say, ‘Hey, we want to bus people up and put them in your dome,’” he said. “It was somebody’s idea to call Apache County up because we got a big dome.”

Mr. Rasmussen said town officials remain concerned about the unresolved border crisis and its potential to destabilize small communities like Springerville.

“They would empty our grocery store in a day,” Ms. Reidhead said. “What did they think was going to happen? Did they think they were going to set them up at the Taj Mahal?”

The mayor said that small rural communities in Arizona will remain at the mercy of illegal immigration until the state and federal government decide to act.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be difficult to stop [illegal immigration] no matter what resolution we have,” she said.

“We'll see. My answer [to the governor] is still no—not only no, but hell no.”

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