- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert traveled to the Southwest during the weekend to survey for himself the porous borders that have become his party’s campaign battle cry and ended up having to loan one of his helicopters to Border Patrol agents who found themselves short-handed.

The Illinois Republican was leading a delegation from Congress to a remote outpost in Arizona called Camp Grip when a lone Border Patrol agent called for backup, Mr. Hastert told The Washington Times. The agent had come across fresh tracks crossing the border and a stash of more than 200 pounds of marijuana.

Deep in the desert and a four-hour drive from the nearest Border Patrol station, Camp Grip doesn’t have a helicopter regularly stationed there. So, agents grabbed machine guns and loaded into one of the four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters ferrying Mr. Hastert’s delegation and flew out to back up the agent.

“The border has become a sieve,” Mr. Hastert said later. “We need to put more Border Patrol guards in places like Camp Grip.”

In a statement by the Department of Homeland Security on the border incident, the lone agent had come “upon fresh foot sign and bicycle tracks of several bicycle riders that had crossed near Red Tail Tank.” He then followed the tracks to “a wash where he discovered six bundles of marijuana totaling 237.8 pounds.”

The drugs were seized but no arrests were made, according to the report.

For Mr. Hastert, the trip — which included stops in Yuma and Nogales, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas — confirmed his conviction that House Republicans are right to demand that the borders are secured before other aspects of immigration reform are addressed.

“We need to get that done before we do anything else,” he said, flying in an Air Force jet 40,000 feet above the sweltering desert.

The trip is part of a months-long effort by House Republicans to highlight what they say are flaws in the Senate immigration bill, which would grant citizenship rights to an estimated 12 million to 20 million. While that plan has the support of Majority Leader Bill Frist and other key Republicans in the Senate, Mr. Hastert and other House Republicans prefer to blame the whole thing on Democrats.

“The Democrats support open borders,” he said.

Mr. Hastert said the incident at Camp Grip highlights the need to secure the borders not only to stop illegal immigration and protect against terrorist infiltration, but also to stop the flow of drugs into the country.

“We have up to 16,000 kids every year die to drugs or drug violence,” he said. “If we ever lost that number in uniform, we’d have people marching in the streets.”

Mr. Hastert also said humanitarian concerns for border crossers are the greatest in remote areas like those around Camp Grip, which was established in 2002 after 23 illegals died trying to cross the desert.

“One of the problems they’re having out there is that they have a ‘coyote’ who’s bringing them through the desert and just letting them go,” he said. “They’re dead before you can even get to them.”

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