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Arizona governor decares state of emergency along Mexican border

AZ Business Journal | August 16, 2005
By Mike Sunnucks

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano declared a state of emergency along the Mexican border on Monday in an effort to fight a tidal wave of illegal immigration and Mexican drug cartel activity in the state.

Napolitano is earmarking $1.5 million in state emergency funds to Yuma, Cochise, Pima and Santa Cruz counties (all of which border on Mexico). The money will be used to help law enforcement agencies combat drug traffickers, illegal immigrant smugglers and criminal gangs operating in along the border.

The Arizona move comes on the heels of a similar state of emergency declaration issued by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson and Napolitano are both Democrats. Elected officials from both parties in the two Southwestern states have been pressuring the Bush administration for more border resources to combat illegal crossings and the costs of undocumented immigration.

"The federal government has failed to secure our border, and the health and safety of all Arizonans is threatened daily by violent gangs, coyotes and other dangerous criminals," said Napolitano. "These funds provide our law enforcement community with another valuable tool to fight crime related to illegal immigration."

There are an estimated 15 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. The majority of them are from Mexico and cross into the U.S. via Arizona after security was beefed up in Texas and California after 9/11.

The U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings this year cautioning Americans about violent crime and drug wars in northern Mexico.

Immigration and border matters are expected to be a top issue in next year's elections. Conservatives have criticized Napolitano for not being tough enough on illegal immigration and border security. The governor opposed a successful ballot question last year that denies state welfare benefits to illegals. Napolitano also vetoed a conservative measure aimed at expanding that referendum to other state services.

East Valley Republican Congressman Jeff Flake said the New Mexico and Arizona moves show the need for federal action on the border.

Flake is cosponsoring an immigration reform plan with Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy, and Tucson Congressman Jim Kolbe that includes a guest worker program, increased enforcement against employers who hire illegals and a legal path for undocumented workers already in the U.S. The latter group would have to pay a $2,000 fine and pass criminal and medical background checks and then apply for legal status.

"As frustration continues to spread to the rest of the country, we can only hope that Congress gets the message and passes a comprehensive temporary worker program, coupled with increased employer enforcement. We cannot afford to wait any longer," Flake said.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl is pushing a rival immigration plan that requires illegals already in the U.S. to return to their home country and then reapply for status.

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