Johnston County Sheriff decries 'soft on crime' policies
JOHNSTON COUNTY, Okla. (KTEN) — The Johnston County Sheriff's office recently had an encounter with undocumented immigrants. It's not the first time, and officials believe the trafficking of immigrants is linked to Oklahoma's problem of illegal marijuana grow farms.
"Illegal immigrants that are funneled across the border, they owe somebody money," said Undersheriff Christian Smith. "Most of the Asian people are charged $75,000. They have to come here and work that debt off."
Johnston County deputies have had several encounters with undocumented immigrants traveling across the county. In the most recent incident — a traffic stop on Friday night — Smith said they found 10 immigrants packed into a 2017 Chevrolet Traverse, but there were no arrests.
"We are state law enforcement officers. We enforce state laws," said Sheriff Gary Dodd. "We do not enforce federal laws per se when it comes to the immigration problem. This case, for instance, we call ICE or Border Patrol. Their hands are tied."
The sheriff's office said there's a connection between illegal marijuana growing and a surge of immigrants.
In his State of the State address on Monday, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Oklahoma has deactivated more than 800 illegal marijuana farms in the last year, with a plan to address future farmland purchases.
"As long as I'm governor, we will protect Oklahoma from the Communist part of China," Stitt said. "We will not allow foreign nationals to buy farmland in the State of Oklahoma."
Dodd says addressing the problem is simple for both Oklahomans and Texans.
"Contact your sheriff and see what their stance is on this. Contact your federal legislators and your state legislators," he said. "Let them know that you have had enough. We are tired. We are sick and tired of criminals coming in and taking advantage of our 'soft on crime' policies."
As elected officials and law enforcement agencies work to combat illegal marijuana farms and immigration issues, Sheriff Dodd said his office supports the medical marijuana industry operating within the parameters of the law.