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Mon, Oct. 14

Border security on the minds of many

Border security is on everyone’s minds, and for good reason. Our state’s 377-mile border with Mexico is in crisis. More people are illegally entering Arizona than ever before, and the federal response has been woefully inadequate.

Every day, we feel the impact. Violent drug runners and human smugglers bring crime into Arizona’s border communities, draining law enforcement resources in the process. Even worse, we face a heightened risk of terrorism, a threat that became all the more real when an illegal immigrant with al Qaeda ties was recently apprehended at the U.S. border.

Border security is a federal issue and requires a federal solution. Unfortunately, the federal government continues to fail us. At a time when our state’s security is most threatened, President George W. Bush and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) persuaded the federal government to cut Arizona’s homeland security funding by 30 percent.

In addition to cutting funding, the federal government has also failed to deliver money that it has already promised to pay. Under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, the federal government is required to reimburse Border States for local expenses related to border security. Since 2002, Arizona has spent more than $217 million to incarcerate illegal aliens, but so far, the federal government has refused to reimburse us.

We don’t need more empty promises, and we don’t need more partisan bickering. We need action, and we need it urgently. We need real leadership and bi-partisan cooperation.

Federal lawmakers could learn a thing or two from Arizona’s governor.

Gov. Janet Napolitano drew national attention to the border crisis when she declared a “state of emergency” in the four counties along the border, and provided critical state resources to assist local law enforcement agencies that fight crime related to illegal immigration.

She earned praise from both parties when she issued her emergency declaration, but her individual attention and tireless dedication to solving the issue started long ago. Since taking office as Governor, she has cut off state funding for day labor centers and increased the penalty for violent human trafficking.

Governor Napolitano continues to put the weight of the state law enforcement community behind her effort to target violent human trafficking. She expanded the state’s Fraudulent ID Task Force to target human traffickers, which has already made some significant arrests. She implemented a Stolen Vehicle Border Enforcement Strategy that will crack down on stolen vehicles en route to the border with high-tech camera equipment.

She created the first Homeland Security strategy in the nation, and worked hard to broker an agreement that will allow 60 Arizona Department of Public Safety officers to conduct Customs checks near the Arizona-Mexico border.

These are common-sense solutions reasonable people from both parties can get behind.

It’s high time for the federal government to follow the Governor’s lead, and fight violent crime along our border. It also ought to restore the homeland security funding it cut, and put additional Border Patrol agents and high-tech tools along the border.

We can secure the border, but in order to do so, the federal government needs to reverse its longstanding policy of neglect, and get serious about supporting our law enforcement community.

With the right leadership and sensible solutions, we can keep Arizona safe, strong and prosperous.

(Harry Mitchell is the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party and an Arizona State Senator.)

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