Law enforcement officials from the Arizona counties hardest hit by illegal immigration say they want U.S. troops to help secure the border, to prevent the deaths of more officers at the hands of criminals who enter the country illegally.
“We’ve had numerous officers that have been killed by illegal immigrants in Arizona,” Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Monday at a Capitol Hill news conference. “And that shouldn’t happen one time.”
Babeu said the violence in Arizona has reached “epidemic proportions” and must be stopped. “In just one patrol area, we’ve had 64 pursuits–failure to yield for an officer–in one month,” Babeu said. “That’s out of control.”
The recent murder of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, who was shot to death last month on his own property, apparently by an illegal alien, also has fueled public outrage.
Arizona Sens. John McCain and John Kyl, both Republicans, called Monday’s news conference to announce a 10-point plan to secure the border between Arizona and Mexico. They are requesting the immediate deployment of 3,000 National Guard troops and a permanent increase of 3,000 more Custom and Border Protection Agents along the state’s border by 2015.
McCain, who faces a tough primary election against conservative Republican JD Hayworth in September, sponsored an immigration-reform bill in 2000 that would have established a guest-worker program and a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants. The bill was opposed by many conservatives. He also supported immigration-reform bills in 2006 and again in 2007.
But on Monday, McCain was talking only about enforcement: “The lesson is clear: First we have to secure the border,” McCain said. “If you want to enact some other reforms, how can that be effective when you have a porous border?”
Later on Monday, McCain told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that he changed his stance on immigration over a year ago. McCain also made that point at Monday’s press conference:
“Let me just say that one of the requirements is absolutely that we need to send 3,000 National Guard troops along the Arizona Mexico border–something that Senator Kyl and I called for well over a year ago,” McCain said.
The senators’ plan includes a wide range of tactics for securing the border, including funding and supporting Operation Streamline, which calls for criminal charges against and incarceration of individuals who enter the U.S. illegally.
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said he believes the porous southern border is not only dangerous to Arizona but to the entire nation, since terrorists could slip through just as easily as drug dealers. “To me, therein lies the real threat to our homeland security,” Dever said.
The senators announced their 10-point plan on the same day the Arizona Legislature sent a tough new immigration bill to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has not yet said whether she will sign it.
The bill, championed as a law-and-order measure by its supporters, would make it a misdemeanor to be in the state illegally, and it would require police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally.
Sen. John McCain praised a tough Arizona anti-immigration bill that will let police arrest people who aren’t carrying identification, the latest move in McCain’s rightward shift in advance of a tough Republican Senate primary this summer.
“I think it’s a very important step forward,” McCain said Monday. “I can fully understand why the legislature would want to act.”
It’s a dramatic switch for a senator who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Democratic lion Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) just four years ago. McCain is facing a primary challenge from the right in former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
Immigration reform advocates were bewildered.
“He risked his political career for immigration reform, and now he is compromising his principles to fight for his political life,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice and a longtime immigration reform advocate.
The bill passed the state’s House on a largely party-line vote last week, and is set for a vote in the Arizona Senate Monday.
McCain’s comments to reporters came as he and fellow Republican Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl unveiled a 10 step plan to secure Arizona’s border with Mexico. McCain and Kyl want to send 3,000 National Guard troops to help an overstretched border patrol curtail increasingly violent incidents along the border, among other measures.
McCain said the plan did not need to move in tandem with a potential federal immigration reform bill.
“The lesson is clear: First we have to secure the border,” McCain said. “If you want to enact some other reforms, how can that be effective when you have a porous border?”
“So we have to secure the border first,” he said.
McCain asked the federal government for more National Guard troops last year, but the request was not granted. The National Guard has been deployed to protect the border before, Kyl said, but troops were moved out as the war in Iraq escalated and their capabilities were needed elsewhere.
Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are writing a bipartisan immigration bill the administration says it wants to push through Congress this year. Lawmakers have been meeting with business and labor interests to try and hash out an agreement.
McCain was a key author of immigration reform during President George W. Bush’s second term, and has previously championed many of the border security measures included in the package he unveiled Monday.