As Congress prepares to take up immigration reform, two high-profile Arizona sheriffs tell Newsmax the federal government's effort to secure the border has been a dismal failure.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said bluntly: "The border is not secure."
"I'm telling you that as somebody on the ground, as someone who experiences it every day. This is a lie that is being peddled by those who must convince the American people that it is secure and everything is just fine," Babeu told Newsmax.
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"We have the most active drug and smuggling corridor in the country," he added, saying that the intersection of major interstates, as well as rural and side roads and vast terrain, make it the perfect area for illegal immigrants coming to this country.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio echoes that view: "Drugs are still coming, illegal aliens are still coming into the U.S.," he told Newsmax.
"You can't just say we must secure the border first and then we'll look at illegal immigration. That border will never be secure.
"Why not say we are going to enforce the U.S. immigration laws, not only on the Mexican border, but on all the borders around the country?"
Many conservatives want to make sure the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States has been slowed before signing on to other aspects of immigration reform.
House Speaker John Boehner has signaled that the chamber will soon take up a series of immigration-related bills focusing on border security and other measures, unlike the comprehensive reform package passed by the Senate last year.
The House will likely take up several measures advanced by the House Judiciary Committee.
A Judiciary aide told Newsmax that the committee has taken a "step-by-step approach to immigration reform, carefully and methodically reviewing each component in detail so that we get immigration reform right."
That approach, said the aide, relies on guaranteeing enforcement of immigration laws and securing the border first, improving legal immigration programs, and finding an "appropriate" means to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.
Babeu said he opposes the current Senate Bill 744, which is supported by Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake. The bill was drafted by a bipartisan group of senators also including prominent Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida.
"They are dead wrong," Babeu said of the Senate effort. "Instead of putting their focus on finding a path to citizenship and a green card, they should put their focus on American citizens and securing our border, and enforcing our laws and putting Americans first rather than these individuals."
Pinal, a massive county larger than some states located about 70 miles from the Mexican border, has seen its share of problems and they are growing worse, Babeu said, noting that any claims by the Obama administration that border crimes are on the decline are misguided.
Unemployment in the county of around 400,000 people is about 21 percent, a disincentive for many illegals who cross the border to find work.
Nevertheless, recent figures
from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) show a 16 percent increase in border arrests in 2013, after dropping 42 percent following the 2008 recession. Along the Southwest border alone, apprehensions jumped from 327,577 in 2011 to 414,397 last year.
"How many others are getting away?" Babeu asked. "This underscores the fact that we do not have consequences for breaking the law."
Babeu said the Obama administration has "undermined and gutted the rule of law when it comes to immigration, all in their quest to give green cards and amnesty to 11 to 20 million illegals who are already here."
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A recent Government Accounting Office report found that efforts to modernize the Department of Homeland Security's border enforcement system, known as the Treasury Enforcement Communications System, were encountering substantial problems, including changing cost estimates "after discovering that its initial solution is not technically viable."
In 2008, DHS began a $1.5 billion effort to modernize the program, which is the primary system used by CBP personnel to screen foreigners against a number of watch lists. But the GAO concluded that its 2015 launch date is now questionable.
Tamar Jacoby, President of ImmigrationWorks USA, said border security is a crucial component, but not the only necessary reform that needs to be adopted.
"The answer is to fix the legal system so that we let in the workers we need, while keeping out those we do not need. We need border and worksite enforcement and we need to have some answer for the 11 million who already are here," she added.
The Heritage Foundation has outlined what it terms "conservative principles" that should guide any immigration reform efforts, calling for Republicans to reject proposals that offer any kind of amnesty.
According to Heritage, U.S. taxpayers will pay as much as $6 trillion in net future costs if unlawful immigrants gain amnesty and access to the full range of government benefits, including welfare and entitlement programs.
Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies with the Center for Immigration Studies, told Newsmax that the Obama administration is falsely claiming that deportations have increased in recent years.
"There is little disagreement that border security has improved from the point it was a decade ago because DHS has improved its enforcement. However, the pressure [of illegal crossings] is still strong and what is more troubling is that we are seeing illegal immigration being carried out by organizations that are more violent and are controlled by criminal groups from the Mexican side," Vaughan said.
Sheriffs Babeu and Arpaio provide strong anecdotal evidence that federal deportation practices are not working as intended. They've both repeatedly arrested and jailed the same illegal aliens, some as many as 10 times, who have managed to cross and re-cross the border from Mexico.
"There's a lot of talk here about billions of dollars and building fences, yet nobody talks about those who come across, who go to jail," Arpaio said. "I've never had any trouble locking up illegal aliens. Is it increasing? That's hard to say, but we have people here [in jail] who have been here 10 times."
In Pinal County, Babeu's deputies arrested a man in December who admitted that he had been deported 10 times, only to return again. He was apprehended after his latest re-entry near the intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 8 in Casa Grande. His vehicle was seen weaving through traffic and then running stop signs and hitting 90 miles an hour on city streets after it exited the highway, according to a sheriff's department news release.
Not all who enter are law-abiding and just looking for a new way of life, Babeu asserted.
In one recent incident, Babeu said an illegal alien was shot in the stomach and hospitalized. Pinal deputies responded and determined that the man had been deported multiple times, and already had a criminal record in the United States. At his residence, police found $10,000 worth of stolen electronics and other valuables from seven different robberies in the county.
"This idea that all these illegals are just here waiting in line patiently to get a job or to enjoy the benefits of our freedom is undercut by the reality on the ground here in Arizona," Babeu said with disgust. "We know that up to 30 percent of those apprehended have criminal records already established in our country, never mind their country of origin.
"Today there are 28,600 service members from the U.S. guarding the border in Korea. Why can't we have thousands of soldiers here until the infrastructure is built to protect and guard our border? It's not about illegals or the drug cartels. It's about national security. I believe this is one of the greatest threats to our country because those who mean us harm will use this as their likely path to access our country."
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