Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Fort Huachuca, a 150-square-mile U.S. Army base in Arizona just 20 miles north of the Mexican border, is home to the country’s premier military intelligence school and, despite the sensitive nature of its assignment, has become a popular corridor for illegal migrants headed to America.

Law-enforcement authorities and congressional investigators said the illegals — some in groups of up to 60 — routinely wander through base housing units, drink from hoses and pools, and trample through the yards of military families and other private areas en route to nearby highways, where they catch northbound rides.

Officially, 3,086 illegal aliens were detained by U.S. Army personnel on the base last year and turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol. Illegal immigration has been described by base officials as “a problem.”

But a report written for the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus as part of an assessment of the Minuteman Project in Arizona last month called Fort Huachuca “surprisingly … disturbingly, the most undermanned federal entity in the area in terms of being able to adequately meet the threat waves of illegal immigrants.”

The 33-page report questioned who is responsible “for the integrity and security of a military installation and its personnel, when that installation and its sensitive mission and equipment are known to lie within a cross-border ‘highway’ of illegal movement.”

Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton said base security is a top priority, noting that military personnel constantly patrol the perimeter of the sprawling facility to guard against intrusions. She said 201 illegal aliens were detained on the base last month during the Minuteman border vigil and 513 in March.

“Force protection is a huge priority, given the challenge of geography,” Ms. Linton said, noting that Arizona leads the nation in illegal migrant crossings into the United States. “They come through the fort and that’s not a good thing, but we are alert to the problem and the mission continues.”

Fort Huachuca lies near the Coronado National Forest and Coronado Memorial National Park, major routes for illegal aliens looking to catch rides from smugglers along State Highway 90 — which runs north and south along the east side of the base. Illegal aliens cross over the base to make connections that will take them 35 miles north to Interstate 10 — a major cross-country east-west highway.

Noting that Fort Huachuca is located in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which accounted for more than 40 percent of the 1.15 million aliens apprehended last year, Ms. Linton called the Fort Huachuca detentions “a drop in the bucket.”

But Arizona state Rep. Russell K. Pearce, a key proponent of Proposition 200 in Arizona that requires proof of citizenship for those seeking to vote or collect public benefits, said that “the invasion of illegal aliens” at Fort Huachuca was “outrageous,” adding that he feared it eventually would effect important training missions.

“It’s estimated that for every illegal alien apprehended, between two and five get by,” he said. “If those estimates are true, that means anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 illegal aliens are crossing Fort Huachuca every year. That’s just too many. It’s time the folks in Washington did something to get this under control.”

Mr. Pearce, whose son, Sean, a deputy sheriff in Phoenix, was critically wounded by an illegal alien in December, questioned whether illegals crossing the base included known criminals and potential terrorists.

In addition to having the nation’s premier military intelligence school, Fort Huachuca hosts several other key military training commands and units from the Homeland Security Department.

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