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Arizona sheriffs call ICE chief’s visit a ‘stunt’

Statement slams Obama ‘inaction’

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Two key sheriffs along the Arizona-Mexico border on Tuesday called a planned visit by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton a "political stunt" and described as "pathetic" Obama administration attempts to "cover up its inaction in protecting our borders."

"The administration blew past their promised Aug. 1 deadline to send 524 National Guard troops to Arizona, and now they are trying to appear concerned by sending the ICE director, who recently received a vote of 'no confidence' by ICE's union," Arizona Sheriffs Paul Babeu of Pinal County and Larry Dever of Cochise County said in a tersely worded statement.

Noting that Mr. Morton's planned visit Wednesday follows an aggressively litigated lawsuit by the Justice Department against Arizona over a tough new state immigration law, they challenged President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, to visit the border themselves. A separate case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charges that the law involves racial profiling and names the sheriffs in all 15 Arizona counties as defendants.

"While he may be on vacation or fundraising, we in Cochise and Pinal counties cannot take a vacation from the hundreds of thousands of illegals that continue to break our laws each day and threaten the safety and security of our residents," said Sheriff Babeu, president of the Arizona Sheriffs' Association.

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"As hidden-camera footage from the border has shown, illegal immigrants coming across the border are skirting our laws and placing our deputies in harm's way," said Sheriff Dever, a member of the board of directors of the National Sheriffs' Association and a former president of the Arizona Sheriffs' Association.

"It seems as though the administration's standard procedure is to slap us with a lawsuit and delay help when we ask them to do their job," he said.

The National Sheriffs' Association has long said that the escalation of violence along the U.S.-Mexico border poses a "serious and potentially dangerous threat" to sheriffs and their deputies in the region and that it was "imperative that the federal government swiftly provide the resources and funding necessary to enable law enforcement along the border to contain this vicious epidemic."

ICE spokeswoman Kelly A. Nantel said the fact of the matter is that the body of the agency's enforcement work in Arizona speaks for itself.

"You need look only at the statistics to see that we are conducting enforcement operations in Arizona and all along the Southwest border at unprecedented levels," she said.

In July, the Obama administration said it would send 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border on Aug. 1 for a year-long deployment to help detect border crossers and smugglers, and to assist in criminal investigations - 524 to Arizona, 250 to Texas, 224 to California, 72 to New Mexico, and 130 to a national liaison office.

The full deployments have not taken place. U.S. National Guard Bureau spokesman Jack Harrison recently said the troops "will not be doing direct law enforcement" in the interdiction of drugs or the apprehension of illegal immigrants.

In May 2006, President Bush sent 6,000 National Guard soldiers to the border. Ralph Basham, U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner at the time, said the troops directly supported the Border Patrol through surveillance, intelligence gathering, entry identification, engineering and other duties. He said that while the soldiers were not involved directly in law enforcement, their presence led to the apprehension of 2,296 illegal immigrants and the seizure of 64 vehicles, 14,496 pounds of marijuana and 220 pound of cocaine.

On Monday, the Obama administration said Mr. Morton, who heads ICE, would travel to the Arizona border along with Arizona Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry Goddard, the state's current attorney general.

The visit coincides with the passage on Tuesday by the House of a bipartisan bill for $600 million to pay for more unmanned surveillance drones and about 1,500 more agents along the U.S.-Mexico border. The House passed the bill by an unrecorded voice vote. The Senate passed an identical bill last week by unanimous consent, although it must act again, for technical reasons, before sending it to the president for his signature.

The bill includes $176 million for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents for a strike force for critical areas, $89 million for 500 ICE personnel, $32 million for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, and $196 million for the Justice Department to bolster its forces along the border of U.S. marshals, and agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Congressional Conversation Index is reporting that immigration has risen again to the top of the list of issues eliciting citizen engagement with Congress in July.

The index found that concern over immigration has risen by roughly 53 percent in the past month, presumably as a result of continuing debate over Arizona's immigration law. Representatives received an average of 145 recorded e-mails, letters or calls regarding the issue throughout July.

Last week, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 7,000 ICE agents and employees, issued a statement saying the union had unanimously passed a "vote of no confidence" for Mr. Morton. The statement said ICE had "abandoned" its core mission of protecting the public to support a political agenda favoring amnesty.

The 259-0 vote said that instead of enforcing U.S. immigration laws and providing for public safety, ICE had directed its attention "to campaigning for programs and policies related to amnesty and the creation of a special detention system for foreign nationals that exceeds the care and services provided to most U.S. citizens similarly incarcerated."

The statement said the integrity of the agency "as well as the public safety" would be "better provided for in the absence of Director Morton" and Phyllis Coven, assistant director of the agency's office of detention policy and planning.

ICE called the statement "creative collective-bargaining tactics," but pledged to continue to work with the union "to address substantive issues in the interests of making our communities safer." It also said the agency is removing record numbers of criminal aliens, up 35 percent from a year ago.

Sheriff Babeu, who leads the third-largest sheriff's office in the state with 700 full-time employees, won his first term in a landslide election in 2008. Sheriff Dever is serving his fourth term in Cochise County, where he has been in law enforcement for 34 years.

The Legacy Foundation, a nonpartisan tax-exempt charity, has established a fund to help pay for the legal defense of Arizona's new immigration law against the Justice Department lawsuit and the lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the state's county sheriffs.

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