Loose Border Saps County Coffers

Donna Leinwand, USA TODAY, March 7, 2006

The United States’ inability to slow illegal immigration from Mexico is fueling a financial crisis in the 24 counties along the 1,951-mile Southwest border, according to a new study. It says the counties are struggling to fund law enforcement, health programs and other necessities because they are spending millions of dollars a year to care for illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants continue to flow across the border even as increased security since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—there now are about 10,000 federal agents there, up from 7,000—has boosted arrests dramatically. In 2004, there were 1.14 million arrests along the border that stretches from California to Texas, the Department of Homeland Security says. That was up 26% from the year before.


Cochise County, Ariz., reported spending tens of thousands of dollars each year to collect trash left at remote campsites by illegal immigrants. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Pat Call estimates that 13% of the solid waste generated in Cochise comes from such sites.

“The garbage issue is huge. Diapers, toilet paper, plastic jugs, backpacks,” says Call, whose sparsely populated county in southeastern Arizona has become a favorite pathway into the USA for drug smugglers, human traffickers and Mexicans seeking work. “You name it, we’ve got to pay the bill for cleaning it up.”

Like Cox and other officials in border jurisdictions, Call says the increasing cost of illegal immigration on local law enforcement is rippling through his county’s budget.

Prosecuting and jailing illegal immigrants who commit crimes costs Cochise County about $5 million of its $49 million annual budget, Call says. In 2005, the county asked the federal government for $2.5 million to help offset the costs and received $73,000, Call says.

About 25% of Cochise’s budget paid for health care to uninsured people—most of them illegal immigrants—who went to the county hospital’s emergency room, he says.

“The border region has some unique hardships,” Call says, citing the UTEP report’s analysis of the border counties’ relatively high rates of uninsured residents and shortages of doctors and nurses. “The immigration issue, because the feds have not moved fast enough or thoroughly enough to deal with it, just exacerbates the panoply of issues we have here.”

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