NOGALES — Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly met with federal and local law enforcement in Nogales Thursday to discuss improving border security.

The meetings were held behind closed doors at a Border Patrol station, but in brief comments before he met with four sheriffs from Arizona’s border counties, Kelly said he wanted to hear from people who know the border better than anyone else.

Kelly did not take questions from the press, but Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said the discussion with Kelly was “refreshing.”

Dannels said the federal government now could work “hand-in-hand” with local authorities on prosecuting cross-border crime, among other issues. “I think hope’s on the table,” Dannels said. The topic of the discussion was border security and law enforcement, not immigration policies, he said.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Antonio Estrada said Kelly was receptive to suggestions, such as adding more customs officers to speed up trade and catch drugs smuggled through ports of entry.

Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot praised Kelly for understanding the unique issues of each border section, such as geographical differences and interactions with tribal governments.

Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier congratulated Kelly for opening the lines of communication. The sheriffs have more than 100 years of law enforcement experience.

“President Trump has chosen well,” said Gov. Doug Ducey, who also attended.

Asked whether Trump’s rhetoric about Mexico posed a challenge to Ducey’s efforts to foster cross-border trade, Ducey said, “If you’re going to have a growing, healthy economy, you have to have public safety. Mexico is Arizona’s top trading partner, but “we don’t want to see these drug cartels and these human traffickers coming through our desert.”

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or cprendergast@tucson.com