KOLD Investigates: Cochise College’s Douglas campus beefs up security as border activity increases
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - School security is beefed up and on high alert at a Southern Arizona college.
Cochise College administration and the Cochise College Sheriff’s Department have reported undocumented migrants are crossing at the border and using the Douglas campus as a pathway to freedom.
The Douglas campus is uniquely situated less than two miles from the U.S./Mexico border.
The campus, which spreads across 550 acres, is a bit like an oasis in the desert.
It is surrounded by ranch land and is about 10 miles from the closest town.
“If you were to get up on top of the building, you could actually see the border wall,” said Cochise College President James Rottweiler.
Rottweiler said the Douglas campus presents unique challenges.
“At night out here, this campus is well lit which means it becomes a way finder for those who may have crossed the border; they had towards the college, towards the lights,” Rottweiler said.
Staff has also reported seeing an increase in traffic during the day.
“We sometimes see things out at the baseball field, out at the rodeo grounds, coming across the runway. We have a 5000-foot runway, which are open areas where there’s not a lot of people,” Rottweiler said.
Rottweiler said they initially hired extra security to keep a close eye on the campus at night, but that has now become a 24/7 job.
“With the surge of smuggling we are seeing in this county. They have become a negative byproduct of that,” said Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels.
Dannels said his office has also increased patrols around the college but requesting intervention from customs and border protection has proved challenging until recently. That is because last year, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a memo which restricts Customs and Border Protection from taking enforcement action in or near protected areas, which includes colleges and universities.
“What wasn’t thought out through that was these are people who are camouflaged from bootie to headgear running through the campus they have even run into the classroom where the students, presenting a huge vulnerability for every student down there,” Dannels said.
Mayorkas did allow for exceptions in limited circumstances, but the agent or officer would have to seek approval from agency headquarters.
“We wanted a much more preventative deterrence type model with their presence on campus,” Rottweiler said.
In March, CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus issued a memo of his own, recognizing Cochise College’s uniquely situated campus, writing in part, “Due to its proximity to the border, migrants making their way to the interior of the United States often transit the campus and surrounding areas, which disrupts educational activities and creates a security risk for students attending classes.”
In the memo, Magnus authorized the Tucson sector to take authority, allowing a quicker response to the Cochise College campus when requested by campus security.
Magnus wrote, “By delegating this authority from CBP HQ to Tucson Sector CPA and DCPA, it will allow U.S. Border Patrol to more quickly respond to the Cochise College campus when requested by campus security personnel, minimizing any disruption to educational activities and ensuring student safety.”
“I am appreciative that the border patrol at the federal level has tried to adjust a memo that was intended probably for larger urban areas area from the border and recognized that Cochise College is unique and will require a slightly different enforcement pattern,” Rottweiler said.
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