Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Congress needs to remind Obama border crisis continues

Remember when there was a crisis on the border? You know, all the way back in 2007 when all anyone talked about was how to stop the invading horde and expel from the country the millions of pernicious illegal immigrant freeloaders?

Few public officials, other than Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and state Sen. Russell Pearce, even bother to bring it up any more, or hold town halls or issue shrill campaign press releases clamoring about all of the “illegals” destroying the country.

In President Obama’s recently released federal budget proposal, funding for border security stays roughly the same, the first time in years that it hasn’t significantly increased over the previous year.

He also will reduce the number of Border Patrol agents, albeit only by 180, or about 0.8 percent. But that’s the first time since 1993 that there won’t be more Border Patrol agents than the previous year.

And no further border fencing will be erected, the first time in at least three years the miles of border fencing won’t increase.

His budget might lead one to think the border crisis is over.


In the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which includes every Arizona county except Yuma, La Paz and Mohave, agents apprehended nearly 250,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2009, which ended Sept. 30. That was about half the total apprehensions made in all of the Mexican border sectors last year.

That’s a far cry from the peak of the crisis in 2006 when 1.1 million illegal immigrants were apprehended along the border, nearly 500,000 of them in Arizona.

But a quarter-million souls caught trying to get into the country through Arizona does not represent a solved problem; it’s still an enormous economic, environmental and humanitarian crisis, especially for Arizona.

The desert south of Tucson has been destroyed. Millions of pounds of trash litter the desert, most concentrated in a few dozen arroyos where immigrants hunker down to hide from the Border Patrol or wait for vehicles to smuggle them to other parts of the country.

In federal fiscal year 2008 the Bureau of Land Management picked up 184,000 pounds of trash and hauled away 70 abandoned vehicles. It barely made a dent in the amount of debris strewn across our public lands.

The BLM estimates that each entrant leaves behind about eight pounds of trash. Since 2006, more than 1 million illegal immigrants have been apprehended in the Tucson Sector. There is no way to know how many more got through, but using the conservative estimate of one getting away for every one caught, that means that in just the past three years an estimated 8 million to 16 million tons of trash has been left by immigrants to foul our desert. That’s the equivalent of driving 350 to 700 trash trucks into the desert and dumping them.

Camping, hiking or biking in the desert surrounding Tucson remains a dangerous affair as coyotes have become increasingly violent in the increasingly lucrative human-smuggling trade.

And the humanitarian toll has only worsened. Despite the recent drop in apprehensions, the number of bodies found in the desert by the Border Patrol hit a record high last year: 208.

The rotten economy, the banking crisis, the housing crisis, two wars and the health care reform political fiasco have obviously consumed the majority of Obama’s attention during his first year in office.

But that’s why we have a Congress. We hope that Arizona’s two senators and eight representatives have not turned their back on the terrible toll illegal immigration is taking on this state and that they set about amending Obama’s ill-considered border security budget.

The crisis continues. Either do more to seal the border or pass comprehensive immigration reform, or both. Doing the same or less than last year is not the answer.

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