Stop Talking, Take Action In Immigration Debate

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The front page article, "Human smuggler arrested near Payson" tells a story greater than that simple incident and it reminds us here in Payson that the "immigration debate" reaches our door in many ways.

While we watch the immigration marches on television, the debate can still feel far away -- Phoenix, Denver, Los Angeles -- but not here.

But that is where we are wrong. This debate and the decisions made in the next few years by our lawmakers are important, because the border is no longer hours away. The border between the United States and Mexico is in everyone's back yard these days, as the story of the human smuggler arrested this week proves.

Keeping illegal immigrants on their side of the border is like one man trying to hold up a crumbling dam.

And every day they pass through Payson, quietly hidden, in vans like the one that was pulled over on Wednesday.

In an interview conducted by Editor Autumn Phillips in 2005 with Senior Border Patrol Agent Elias Garcia in El Paso, Texas, he said, "I know why people try to sneak across the border, but I also know that some drown trying and some die of dehydration and exposure in the desert. I know that a country needs boundaries and that laws need to be obeyed."

He's been with the Border Patrol as a line agent for eight years. He talks about his job with pride. He sees himself, above all, as a lifesaver.

"When I approach a group in the desert, that's when I'm doing my job," he said, "because those people aren't going to die today."

People crossing the border have usually, up to that point, been law-abiding citizens, he said, but "hunger forces you to do things you wouldn't normally do. If their hopes are pinned on getting to the United States, it doesn't matter how hard it can be."

The human smuggler who was arrested on the outskirts of Payson Wednesday told police he was paid $50 a head to transport his cargo to Ohio. If that is true, he is operating at bargain basement prices.

Phillips interviewed immigrants on both sides of the border in 2005. One man told her his story from a room in a safe house where he was recovering after being abandoned by a human smuggler he paid $2,000 to get him from Tijuana to Houston -- a more common price.

The smuggler took his money, marched him for days in the desert and then left him to die when they were almost caught. When he arrived at the safe house, he was exhausted, dehydrated and defeated.

Over the years, the smuggling industry has grown, and the price smugglers charge has risen with every anti-terrorism and border-blocking measure the Department of Homeland Security has taken.

"These smugglers are only out for profit," Garcia said in 2005. "Their methods are very dangerous. They hide people in 18-wheelers without ventilation. They have families crossing fast-moving waterways or walking for days in the desert.

"These people trust the smugglers with their lives. They think if they pay money, they will arrive safely, but the (smugglers) will abandon them in the desert if there is trouble."

Because this issue is so complicated and so emotional, and because we cannot agree even among the members of our own editorial staff, the Roundup will not endorse one course of action that our lawmakers should take in this immigration debate. We will only say that it cannot be ignored and that the time is now for the U.S. government to stop "debating" and take action -- one way or another -- because people are dying.

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