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Senators to hear about border violence

The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic

Members of the U.S. Senate will be in Phoenix next week to hear how border violence is affecting the region.

On April 20, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hear testimony from Gov. Jan Brewer, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and officials from Arizona communities near the Mexico border.

Drug violence has surged in Mexico. More than 6,000 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico in 2008, more than double the number from the previous year. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, plans to send more than 100 federal agents to the border to help combat the wave of violence.

Some officials also say that rampant drug-related kidnappings in Phoenix are tied to the escalating brutality in Mexico.

The Phoenix field hearing is the latest in a string of similar border hearings held by Congress in recent weeks.

Next week’s meeting is special because senators can talk to people with firsthand knowledge in a state that’s affected the most, said Mark Buse, Sen. John McCain’s chief of staff. McCain sits on the committee and will attend the hearing with the committee’s chairman, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

McCain “thought it was very important to hold a hearing near the border, out in Arizona, where we can hear from . . . everyone who has been affected, everyone who has thoughts on the matter,” Buse said.

Some witnesses for the hearing, including Gordon and state Attorney General Terry Goddard, have already testified before Congress. Buse said their insights were still helpful.

The others on the list are Nogales Mayor Octavio Garcia Von Borstel, Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik and Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever.

After opening statements from senators on the panel, witnesses will testify and committee members will ask questions. Like most Senate hearings, the public can’t comment or ask questions.

The public can submit testimony to McCain’s office, which could be added to the committee’s record later, Buse said.

It’s unclear what action the senators plan to take after the hearing. The panel is gathering information, so McCain doesn’t have specific proposals yet, Buse said. “Obviously everything is on the table right now,” the chief of staff said. “The senator believes that this issue is not going to go away.”

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