U.S. to Aid Border Fight
Homeland Security heeds governor's plea to help combat smuggling
August 23, 2005
The Arizona Republic
Just days after being criticized by Gov. Janet Napolitano for their resistance, federal authorities on Monday promised to help Arizona's fight against human trafficking and other problems caused by the influx of undocumented immigrants.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday sent Napolitano a letter outlining a multipronged plan to crack down on human smuggling, ease overcrowding in Arizona prisons and beef up immigration training given to Highway Patrol officers.
"We are moving forward quickly and aggressively to fashion a comprehensive plan with real solutions," Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff wrote. "We . . . intend to build a partnership with Arizona."
After years of mistrust and miscommunication, the letter could mark a new era of cooperation between Arizona and federal authorities.
Last week, Napolitano sent a scathing letter to Chertoff complaining aggressively about a lack of government cooperation on crucial border issues. On Monday night, she praised their efforts.
"I think this is very promising," Napolitano said from Washington, D.C. "We're finally seeing some movement. I look forward to speaking with Secretary Chertoff. It's finally nice to get something in writing."
In his two-page letter, Chertoff reminded Napolitano that Arizona was the first state he visited when he took his job earlier this year. He also said that federal authorities intend to enhance coordination with the state and have an increased presence in Arizona. He pledged to target the violent human smuggling trade, "especially within the area of Phoenix." Although the federal plans still have to be fleshed out, some of the details include:
- Arizona-based officials of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, would team four Arizona Department of Public Safety officers with federal agents to crack down on human trafficking and smuggling of drugs in the Phoenix area.
- Homeland Security officials said they will start periodic patrols of the Phoenix bus station.
- The letter says that the Border Patrol wants to work with the DPS on a variety of immigration efforts in the Casa Grande and Gila Bend areas.
- The federal government also offered to help deport foreign nationals that are currently housed in Arizona prisons. Those details will have to be ironed out.
- The Border Patrol would like the DPS to have a full-time person in ICE's Phoenix office and the Border Patrol office in Tucson.
Napolitano never heard back from Justice Department officials after telling them in February that they owe Arizona $217 million for incarcerating undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. The latest move could signal that border security is becoming such a massive problem in Arizona that it's pushing beyond partisan politics.
Once considered the bailiwick of the federal government, the letters between Napolitano and Chertoff are the latest reminder of how illegal immigration is a critical concern of frustrated taxpayers. There is no question that illegal immigration has emerged as the dominant issue in Arizona politics and will probably help frame Napolitano's re-election bid in 2006.
Chertoff invited all 50 state Homeland Security directors back to Washington to talk about a reorganization plan for department. Napolitano is in the nation's capital today, but she doesn't have any plans to meet with Chertoff.
Originally, Napolitano had hoped to assign 12 Highway Patrol officers to team up with federal agents to crack down on the smuggling of drugs and undocumented workers in the Phoenix area. But ICE declined the offer. She is now changing her strategy to attack state crimes involving drugs and stolen cars that fuel illegal immigration. She will shift the 12 officers to an auto-theft task force.
Napolitano also has started a campaign to curb the widespread use of fake identification. Since her election in 2003, the rift between the Democrat governor and the federal government has continued to widen as both sides struggle to stem the growing tide of illegal immigration. The majority of the 1.1 million arrests of undocumented immigrant along the Southwestern border last year were reported in Arizona, which shares 389 miles of border with Mexico.
""I have to say this (help) is encouraging," Napolitano said.