- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona has long been one of the busiest gateways for aliens trying to sneak into the country, and some lawmakers believe it’s time to dispatch state police squads to catch those who slip past border agents.

The notion is gaining political traction as the public’s frustration about the state’s porous border with Mexico grows. Over the years, it was often resisted by officials who contended that stopping illegal entry should be the sole province of the federal government.

A state lawmaker has proposed a plan that includes $20 million for the Arizona Department of Public Safety to mount a 100-member squad to operate surveillance equipment, construct border barriers, target drug and immigrant smugglers and perhaps patrol the border.

“I’m not putting the handcuffs on. Whatever they need to do, they need to be doing,” said Republican Rep. Russell Pearce, the plan’s sponsor.

A different plan by Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, would have two state police squads focus on alien smuggling cases. Both plans offer millions of dollars to communities to thwart illegal entries, and money for combating gang-related border crime.

Arizona has been dogged by a heavy flow of illegal aliens since the government tightened enforcement in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego during the mid-1990s. The Border Patrol apprehended 725,093 illegal border crossers in Arizona in fiscal 2000, though the numbers declined after the September 11 terrorist attacks prompted heightened border security.

State police in Arizona already work near the border. An average of 27 state police officers are near the border at any given time, assisting federal authorities in looking for fugitives trying to leave the country and people attempting to bring ill-gotten cash and stolen vehicles into Mexico.

Advocates for state and local action said the idea will not fix Arizona’s vast immigration problems, but would discourage some people from sneaking across the border.

“If the federal government isn’t going to do the job and Arizona is footing billions of dollars a year for illegal aliens, it makes sense for the state to get involved,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors limits on immigration.

Opponents say racial profiling could increase if officers unfamiliar with immigration law were to try and enforce it. They also say it could make investigating crime harder in immigrant communities, because fewer aliens would cooperate with police for fear of being sent home. Local officers also lack understanding of complex immigration law, they say.

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