A week after Arizona's governor declared a state of emergency in counties bordering Mexico, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed yesterday that it agreed to strengthen its law enforcement presence in areas that are experiencing high levels of illegal immigration.
In a letter sent Monday to Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D), DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said Immigration and Customs Enforcement will train local investigators to deal with human trafficking in Phoenix.
The Border Patrol will allow its officers to help local police patrol main highways used by illegal immigrants. DHS also agreed to a state proposal that would allow the state to help ICE transport undocumented immigrants.
DHS spokesman Russ Knocke said the department had placed "a greater priority on border security" well before Napolitano declared a state of emergency.
"We've added 534 new Border Patrol agents in Arizona and 23 new aircraft," he said. "We're very aware of the frustration that exists along the border and we share some of those frustrations."
During an interview yesterday at The Washington Post, Napolitano said Arizona public safety officials had for months offered to assist DHS in rounding up immigrants who had crossed the border illegally but got no response.
In a terse Aug. 11 letter to Chertoff, she said her office met with Border Patrol officials who "indicated the agency is not interested in participating" in a joint effort to target human traffickers. In the letter, Napolitano said ICE representatives were not interested in exploring a joint operation in Phoenix, where human smugglers maintain safe houses for transient immigrants.
"This bewildering resistance is a further example of ICE's inattention to Arizona," she said.
Two days after the letter, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) declared a state of emergency along the Mexico border. Napolitano did the same two days later.
The declarations allow the governors to spend nearly $1.5 million each to hire more police, buy vehicles and otherwise shore up law enforcement in counties that border Mexico. A Richardson spokesman said Chertoff called the governor yesterday and assured him that security along the border is a priority for DHS and that some of the 1,000 border patrol agents expected to be added next year will be posted to New Mexico. Chertoff also said an analysis is nearly completed on how best to integrate technology and personnel to stop illegal immigration, said Billy Sparks, Richardson's deputy chief of staff.
Arizona officials say the porous border burdens police, who have recorded about 510,000 arrests since Oct. 1. In New Mexico, ranchers allege that as many as 30 illegal immigrants run across their property each night.
The governors called for remedies to border security that echo in legislation proposed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
The senators proposed a guest worker program that would allow new immigrants to work jobs that U.S. citizens do not want. Undocumented immigrants living and working illegally would pay a penalty for breaking the law and go to the back of the job line, behind new immigrants.
Conservative critics accused Napolitano and Richardson of trying to embarrass the Republican Bush administration on an issue the president cares about. In an interview yesterday at The Post, Napolitano responded: "If it wakes George Bush up, then I think I did the right thing."
Knocke said the administration is making strides in improving border security. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government has expanded the Border Patrol's size and has increased spending by 58 percent, he said.
"We are encouraging those states that want to work with us," Knocke said.