A priest crossed the border illegally through Nogales last week in an effort to draw attention to immigration issues.
The Rev. Gary Graf of the St. Gall Catholic Church in Chicago crossed the border from Nogales, Sonora without going through a port of entry. But unlike most other people who cross the border illegally, Graf went straight to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.
“He turned himself in, saying ‘I want to be held accountable, what I did was wrong and people need to understand that,’” said Sheriff Antonio Estrada. “He felt that people should come over legally and people should be accountable.”
According to the story Graf told Estrada, he had prepared himself to cross the border in the same manner as many other illegal immigrants: by hiring a guide and climbing the border fence.
When Estrada asked if there were any witnesses to the alleged crime, Graf responded that he crossed by himself, Estrada said.
“He had met with a group that was about ready to go, but he got impatient because they didn’t know when they were going to cross over with the coyotes so he crossed over by himself,” Estrada said.
Graf told Estrada that he had entered Mexico legally and there should be some record of that crossing. Without a corresponding record of crossing legally back into the U.S., Graf said that should be proof that he had entered the U.S. illegally.
Estrada informed Graf that crossing the border illegally is a federal crime, and therefore outside of the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Office. Instead of arresting him, Estrada made a call to Border Patrol, he said.
Border Patrol asked if Graf was a U.S. citizen and then said that Graf should return to a port of entry, Estrada said. Border Patrol sent an agent to the Sheriff’s Office, but the agent’s supervisor told Estrada that there was nothing they could do, he said.
Graf told Estrada that he had come to the border to bring attention to the complexities of immigration policies, Estrada said, adding that Graf had apparently contacted the Mexican news media, one member of which called Estrada before he met Graf.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Graf was back in Chicago on Sunday, where he told his parishioners that he had done something wrong by scaling the border fence and entering the U.S. illegally. He reportedly urged them to apologize if they had done the same.
In April 2011, a 21-year-old male U.S. citizen was caught in Nogales jumping the border fence from Mexico into the United States. A Border Patrol spokeswoman said at the time that the man was not suspected of being involved in a crime other than not using an official port to enter the United States.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office ultimately decided not to charge the man.
Illegally entering the country is a felony offense that can carry up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for first-time offenders.