At an Oct. 13 "Town Hall" meeting, Congressman Rick Renzi (AZ dist. 1) told residents of the Black Canyon City area about a $29 billion package recently passed to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants into Arizona and other western states.
"After September 11, we took too much time re-organizing under the Department of Homeland Security," he said. "We have to take this $29 billion we finally allocated for the border and come up with a master zone defense."
Renzi said the current border patrol organization is under-equipped for the job.
"You get people coming in over here, and border patrol agents, of which we have less now then we did two years ago, run over there with their Dodge Dakota pickups and catch the 13 illegals. Then they call other border patrol agents off their duty stations to come over, because they can't fit them all in their truck," he said. "We don't give them the proper technology to meet the mission objective. We don't have a master plan on how to create a barrier using the best technology we have and our best personnel."
Renzi responded to suggestions for using the US military to secure the southern border.
"If you go to the military and say 'What would you do if we gave you the objective to seal the border? " he said, "they would tell you it would have to be a defensive mission and a defensive position means ground sensors, tower sensors, UAV's flying the border - you have a whole master plan of sensors. We don't do that now."
Audience members asked Renzi what the federal government's position is on "guest workers."
"Our agricultural industries and our service industries are dependent, to an extent, on the labor to the south," he said. "If we can seal the border, we can figure out what that number is and then we can organize that labor and we can have that debate."
Renzi said any "guest worker" program, such as the one currently in the planning stages, won't gain public acceptance until the border is secure.
"While it would allow more immigration permits to be issued and organize the labor to the south, which we depend on, I don't see the American people embracing it until the border is secure," he said. "What's the motivation for you (the worker) to stand in line, pay a fee, have a criminal background check done, pay Social Security (tax), pay your (income) taxes, if you can (instead) just walk through the border?"
Renzi said Congress is acting to relieve some of the financial burden that illegal immigration causes for the effected states.
"Our hospitals, our jails, in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff are being overburdened by this," he said. "There is a bill in congress to provide federal tax dollars to save those hospitals and that infrastructure. Once we seal the border, that would also be one of the issues we would be facing."