Congress Now Responding To Needs Of Border States


by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl
It doesn't take long for a visitor from home to notice that Washington, D.C. is quite a bit different from Arizona. In fact, the only thing both places seem to have in common lately is 100 degree weather -- and it's not a dry heat in the nation's capital!

This difference is noticeable, as well, in the government's attitude toward issues that appear to have only a regional interest. An excellent example is the border.

President Clinton's Justice Department, which oversees the INS and its Border Patrol, has not devoted enough attention or resources toward border law enforcement -- something that is clearly the responsibility of the federal government. In fact, as I have reported previously, the president's budget did not request any funds to hire additional Border Patrol agents next year, even though we are experiencing record levels of apprehensions and drug seizures along the Arizona border.

The president did, however, request funding to supplement the hiring of local police officers all over the country -- something that is clearly not a federal responsibility. In other words, the President's Justice Department appears to be guilty of trying to spend money where it will generate the most popularity, rather than where it is most needed.

Congress is not immune to this tendency, either, and has not always provided adequate funding to border communities -- either for federal law enforcement or in compensation for the costs these communities incur as a result of insufficient border control.

We Arizonans know that the effects of illegal immigration and drug smuggling are not just felt along the border. A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted what local Border Patrol and Customs officials have been saying for years: Arizona serves as a "jumping-off" point to the rest of the nation for illegal immigrants and drugs.

To better make the case to Washington of the impact of insufficient border control on the rest of the country, I invited the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Ted Stevens of Alaska, to visit the Arizona border last week. It was a homecoming, of sorts, for Senator Stevens -- he had earned his Army Air Corps wings at Douglas Field in 1944.

During his trip to Douglas and Naco, including an aerial tour of the remote border areas where many illegal crossings occur, Chairman Stevens saw first-hand the need for greater federal resources for border law enforcement. He also met with local residents and community leaders who told him of the effects the increase in illegal immigration and drug smuggling was having on the community: more expenses for local law enforcement, increased judicial case loads, and increased costs for emergency medical care and transportation. Arizonans also told Chairman Stevens of increased trespassing, burglary and destruction of property, and of their fears of increasingly violent confrontations.

Chairman Stevens listened -- and took that information back to Washington.

And last week, the Appropriations Committee, of which I am a new member, approved a federal spending bill that contains numerous provisions for Arizona, particularly in the area of border enforcement.

Money was included to hire an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents next year, for new equipment and improved facilities for the Patrol, and for a special program to combat methamphetamine in Arizona, among other provisions.

It is, however, still not enough; Arizona incurs millions of dollars in costs due to its proximity to the federal border. To help define those costs more concretely, the Committee also requested a study of the fiscal impact on border communities of the federal government's failure to adequately control the border.

Clearly, Chairman Stevens' visit was helpful; the study should be, also.

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