McCain: Southern Ariz. is a "no-man's land"

During a meeting of border state Sheriffs, Senator John McCain criticized opposition to Arizona's controversial immigration law


By Astrid Galvan
Albuquerque Journal

SANTA ANA PUEBLO — The federal government has failed to secure its border with Mexico, and that means local police and deputies have to pick up the slack, Sen. John McCain told a group of border state sheriffs meeting here Wednesday.

The Arizona Republican took some direct shots at President Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in the 2008 presidential election. In particular, he singled out the administration's opposition to Arizona's controversial immigration law.

"If the federal government had carried out its responsibility, the state of Arizona wouldn't have felt compelled to (pass the law)," he said.

Among other things, the law would allow police to check the immigration status of anyone they encounter during any "lawful contact." However, the Obama administration has won a court ruling blocking some of the law's key provisions.

"I'm deeply disappointed in the president of the United States," McCain said.

About 200 sheriffs and others attended McCain's 20-minute speech on the second day of a three-day conference focused on border issues at the pueblo's Hyatt Regency Tamaya resort. The Southwestern Border Sheriffs' Coalition meets every year in a different state.

McCain, who briefly joked about losing the presidential election, received several standing ovations from the enthusiastic crowd.

The senator noted that Border Patrol agents last year apprehended more than 241,000 illegal immigrants in the Tucson sector, and he cited one law enforcement source that said 17 percent of those had committed serious crimes. However, immigration apprehensions along the border have decreased 53 percent since 2005.

McCain spent the first few minutes of his speech talking about the murder of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, who was killed in March while checking on water lines on his ranch near the Arizona/ Mexico border. Authorities believe Krentz was killed by a drug smuggler.

"Nobody would consider this being a border that is under control," he said.

Sheriffs, he said, also are having to deal with spillover from the vicious drug war raging in Mexico. In Pima County, marijuana seizures were up 33 percent over 2008, he said. Local police and sheriffs are "being asked to serve as our country's first line of defense ... because of the federal government's inability or unwillingness to protect our border," he said.

The people of southern Arizona, McCain said, feel like they live in a "no-man's land."

Event organizer Jim Burleson said McCain was invited because members of the coalition wanted to learn more about a recently passed bill that appropriates $600 million for border security.

The Emergency Border Security Supplementa l Appropriations Act provides $176 million to hire 1,000 new Border Patrol agents; $29 million for 250 new customs and border protection officers to work ports of entry; and funding for FBI and DEA agents working the border. McCain said it also includes money for new prosecutors and judges in border areas. In an interview with local media, McCain said the bill will also help battle any dangers associated with the drug war in Mexico. "I think it's helpful, it's just not enough," McCain said. He said he planned on introducing new legislation that would appropriate even more money. McCain dedicated several minutes of his speech to the drug war, which has claimed more than 28,000 lives in the past three years. A f ter wa rd , McCain answered a couple of questions from the audience. One man asked about the lengthy process of obtaining legal residency in the United States, which he said likely contributes to so many people crossing the border illegally.

McCain agreed.

"There's a huge backlog, as you know. My staff in Arizona spends half their time on vets or immigration issues, and it needs to be fixed," McCain said.

"When we get the border secured, we need to go to work (on immigration backlog) and do it as soon as possible."

McCain said that supporting a secure border and enforcement of immigration laws isn't anti-immigrant but is about ensuring fairness to others around the world who dream of coming to America.

He also challenged human rights groups to support more effective border control, noting the large numbers of immigrants who have died trying to cross the Arizona border. More than 2,000 bodies have been found in the desert over the past decade.

"If I sound angry, it's because I am. I care about human rights," he said.

Gov. Bill Richardson has been a strong critic of the Arizona law, but a Journal poll published Sunday found support for it among likely voters in New Mexico. Of those responding to the poll, 53 percent said they supported it while 35 percent said they were opposed.

Copyright 2010 Albuquerque Journal

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