Marco Antonio Estrada, known as Sheriff Tony Estrada, has become Arizona's longest-serving sheriff as well as the only Latino sheriff in the state.
This New Year's Eve, he prepares to leave the office where he served for nearly 30 years.
“It’s been an honor, I came from Nogales, Sonora. I immigrated when I was about a year-and-a-half-old,” said Estrada.
Estrada says it was his humble beginnings as an immigrant that led to his success.
“It’s a dream. I’m the only Hispanic sheriff in the state. And to think that my mom would save every penny to pay for immigration fees.”
He says they lived in poverty, struggling to pay their monthly rent of $10, but never missed the basic needs. Even though they couldn’t afford hamburgers, they never experienced hunger, said Estrada.
It still feels surreal, he says, to just think that the little boy who crossed the border would become part of Arizona's history.
“I was given that opportunity. For some reason, somebody, somehow said, 'You know what you’re going to be (by) doing this. You’re going to be an impact on people, less fortunate people,'” expressed Estrada.
Sheriff Estrada has spent more than 50 years in law enforcement. He was only 22-years-old when he joined the Nogales Police Department in 1966.
“It’s going to be 28 years as a sheriff here in Santa Cruz County, that's a record, and then of course 25 years with the City of Nogales Police Department from where I retired as a captain,” stated Estrada.
At age 77, he’s decided it’s time to call it a career.
“I think seven is my lucky number. I was born in July, the seventh month, I’m in my seventh term and I'm 77-years-old.”
But after so many years in law enforcement, what will tomorrow and the new year look like for Tony Estrada?
“It’s going to take a while to sink in that I am no longer the sheriff, I am no longer in law enforcement. But stay with the family, I plan to stay active at some point, but for now, I’m just going to take it easy and relax.”
Until then, even if retirement is just hours away, he plans to continue working and advocating for those who have no voice.
“I've been criticized because of my stand on defending people coming from other countries. You know, we treat livestock better than we treat human beings. We don't put razor wire on livestock, but we’re doing it on human beings. I cannot accept that.”
He says the worst thing he witnessed during his career involved other law enforcement agencies.
“The cruelty of snatching and taking away children from their parents' arms, traumatizing them, caging them. It’s not right. it’s not humane.”
He has also seen big changes in his home Nogales due to the recession and the impact of COVID-19.
“The downtown area used to be one of the busiest areas. The JCPenney store one block away from the Morley Avenue Port of Entry was full of people, Mexican consumers every day.”
He hopes border restrictions are lifted soon so Mexican tourists can return to shop at downtown Nogales. He also hopes that coronavirus stops spreading and that there’s no more construction of a wall.
But above all, to be remembered as a good sheriff, the best he could be.
“ I would like to be remembered as being a good sheriff, a caring sheriff that had compassion and empathy, that understood the needs of the community. That everything that I’ve accomplished was a team effort, from my family to my law enforcement family here. That I did my best.”
Estrada hopes to leave a mark and for other Latinos and immigrants to see anything is possible.