Friday, April 8, 2011

Border hearing: Escobar, McCain spar on security

El Paso Times
April 8, 2011
by Aileen B. Flores

Federal funding has not met growing demands for law enforcement agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border to meet the appetite for a secure border, County Judge Veronica Escobar said Thursday.

Escobar was part of a delegation that testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in Washington, D.C.

During her testimony, she and committee member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., disagreed on the value of a border fence.

Escobar said, "While federal law enforcement has gone on the record to praise the border wall, it is, to me and others, an example of considerable federal dollars being spent on a rusting monument that makes my community look like a junkyard.

"We are indeed on the front lines, and a safe border means a safe nation," she said. "But vilifying immigrants, building expensive, ugly walls, and encouraging hysteria and xenophobia only hurts our border communities, our commerce and the economy of the nation."

McCain said her comments do not apply to Arizona's citizens.

"I don't view ranchers who live in the southern part of my state who had repeated home invasions as xenophobic," he said.
McCain talked about several violent incidents in southern Arizona. He also mentioned signs posted along the Arizona border warning residents against traveling in certain areas because of potential drug and human smugglers.

He said drug smuggling has changed the jobs of border law enforcement. McCain said sheriff's deputies' jobs in border communities are more difficult, more challenging and more dangerous than ever before.

He repeatedly said he does not believe the U.S. border is immune to being affected by Mexico's violence.

"There is no logic associated with that," he said.

McCain said he appreciated the fact that U.S. border cities are safe but, to him, the statement is not logical when Mexico's violence is increasing.

McCain added that the National Guard's presence along the U.S.-Mexico border is "indispensable." He said the National Guard supplements the U.S. Border Patrol.

Escobar said the federal government has supported local law enforcement agencies through programs, funds and grants. But funding has not grown along the border over the years to meet law enforcement's needs.

"The federal funds coming into my community are critical and are not enough," she said. Escobar also said this has caused property taxes to increase and law enforcement agencies to make operational cuts.

Escobar said El Paso County has requested money from the Merida Initiative, a multiyear program that helps the governments of Mexico, Central American nations, the Dominican Republic and Haiti to confront criminal organizations.

But the U.S. government has not given the county any money from Merida, Escobar told the panel.

Specifically talking about Juárez, Escobar said the continuing pattern of violence has led to an increase in people seeking treatment at El Paso's University Medical Center trauma center.

Since 2008, El Paso County has spent close to $5 million in trauma care for victims of the Juárez violence -- of which only $1.2 million has been collected -- Escobar said.

Escobar credits El Paso's safety to a good relationship between law enforcement officials and residents.

"We depend on that relationship to keep us safe," she said. She added that El Paso has achieved its designation of America's safest city despite its proximity to Juárez -- called by many the world's most dangerous city.

Escobar voiced her support for comprehensive immigration reform and was clear that El Paso officials are against local law enforcement enforcing immigration laws.

Escobar asked for better technology and equipment for the international ports of entry and said it would speed up crossing times.

She was one of four witnesses in Thursday's hearing, which focused on illegal immigration and border-related crime in border communities.

Other witnesses were Imperial County (Calif.) Sheriff Raymond Loera, Luna County (N.M.) Sheriff Raymond Cobos and Pinal County (Ariz.) Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Cobos testified that Mexico's violence has affected his community in an indirect way.

He talked about a recent incident in which the Columbus, N.M., police chief, its mayor, a village trustee and eight others were charged with trafficking firearms to Mexican cartels.

Cobos also voiced his support of the border fence and said it has deterred women and children from crossing illegally.

The delegation's testimony was part of a series of hearings that will study progress made during the past 10 years as a result of substantial federal support to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.

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