Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mesa debate: The GOP candidates' border-security stances

Arizona Daily Star
February 22, 2012
by Norma Coile

Here’s some of what the Republican presidential candidates said about securing Arizona’s border with Mexico when they were asked about the issue at their CNN debate in Mesa:

Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul: “The weak economy ... and the welfare state” are encouraging people to come illegally because they can get health care benefits and U.S. educations. “We reward illegal immigration.” Asked directly by CNN moderator John King, Paul said it’s “probably not” worth it to spend $3 million per mile for secure fencing. He said illegal immigrants should be arrested for trespassing the minute they step on private land in the U.S.

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “The further we’ve gone with the fence ... the fewer people have broken into California.” He supports a double fence and said he has a plan to waive all federal regulations and studies to meet a Jan. 1, 2014 deadline he’s set for that plan. He said he would be willing to move up to half of 23,000 Department of Homeland Security employees working in Washington, D.C. to the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Gingrich said he supported President Reagan’s immigration reform law in 1986, which included employer sanctions and a guest-worker program. “We got short-changed on every item we were supposed to get,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe a comprehensive bill can pass now and so we should go “one step at a time.”

Earlier in the debate, Gingrich volunteered that “It’s utterly stupid to say the U.S. can’t control its border. It’s a failure of will, a failure of enforcement. What if the president, instead of suing Arizona, helps Arizona?” he asked, giving his own answer:“It’s a lot less expensive in the future, to hospitals, school systems, to prisons, if you control the border.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: “You see a model here in Arizona,” where there is a state law requiring employers to use E-Verify to be sure their employees are in the country legally. Since that law went into effect, he said, the number of illegal immigrants in Arizona “has dropped 14 percent versus the national average of a 7 percent drop.” Romney said the federal government“should drop these lawsuits against states ... like Arizona that are tring to do ... what Barack Obama won’t do.”

He called for finishing the fence, making sure there are enough Border Patrol agents, requiring E-Verify nationwide and imposing employer sanctions for hiring of illegal immigrants. “You can stop illegal immigration ... It’s time we finally do it,” Romney said.

Earlier in the debate, in talking about his record in Massachussetts, Romney said he “enabled our state police” to enforce immigration laws. (Media including USA Today have reported that Gov. Romney signed a federal memorandum allowing state troopers to arrest suspected illegal immigrants.)

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: He was asked by CNN’s King whether regular citizens who hire illegal labor in their homes as nannies, for instance, should be penalized. “I’m not going to require homeowners to do E-Verify,” he answered. “I think that’s taking it one step too far.”

Santorum called for more detainment and deporting. He wasn't given as much time to answer the question as Gingrich and Romney were.

Romney calls Arizona immigration law a model for the nation

Los Angeles Times
February 22, 2012
By Michael A. Memoli

Mitt Romney called the controversial Arizona illegal immigration law a model for
the country, and blasted the Obama administration for challenging it in court."I will drop those lawsuits on Day One," Romney said in response to a question on illegal immigration during a GOP candidate debate in Mesa, Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the bill, was in the audience.

"I'll also complete the fence, I'll make sure we have enough Border Patrol agents to
secure the fence, and I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers," he added.

Rick Santorum praised Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for a tough stance on illegal immigration, and said he would support local law enforcement efforts to tackle the challenges it posed. Newt Gingrich defended his past support for a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration, and said if elected he would "go one step at a time" -- starting with securing the border.

Gingrich otherwise declined to respond directly to concerns by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and others that Republicans have risked harming the party among Latinos with their hard-line stances.

Ron Paul joked in his answer about the need to "forget about the border between Pakistan and
Afghanistan and deal with our border.",0,7736719.story

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pot-smuggling tunnels in Tijuana grow more elaborate

McClatchy / Boston Herald
February 20, 2012
by Tim Johnson

TIJUANA, Mexico _ When smuggling goes smoothly for the marijuana division of the huge Sinaloa Cartel, cross-border deliveries unfold with clockwork precision.

Harvested marijuana arrives in plastic-wrapped bales to a depot hidden among the rundown warehouses on the Mexican side of the concrete U.S. border fence.

Once enough marijuana is collected, workers drop the vacuum-packed bales through shafts leading to the ever-more-elaborate tunnels that cross underneath the border through the clay-laden soil.

U.S. agents have been waging war against the tunnels for years, using a range of high-tech devices from ground-penetrating radar to seismic sensors to find and destroy them. But despite the efforts, drug smugglers continue to build the tunnels, often spending $1 million to dig a single pathway equipped with lighting, forced-air ventilation, water pumps, shoring on walls and hydraulic elevators.

Lately, new tunnels have included railways. The bales move on electric mining carts with hand throttles that roll at up to 15 mph.

"A tunnel represents an incursion into the U.S., and it’s a national security event," said Jose M. Garcia, who oversees the federal multi-agency San Diego Tunnel Task Force.

The location of the tunnels helps explain why agents have such difficulty finding them. The area where the most advanced tunnels have been found is adjacent to the Tijuana international airport, where scores of planes take off and land daily. Nearby warehouses buzz with legitimate activity.

"All that noise from the airport is a great advantage to them," said Victor Clark Alfaro, an anthropologist and human rights activist in Tijuana who also lectures at San Diego State University. "This border is perforated like an anthill."

U.S. officials say they have found more than 160 tunnels since 1990 along the 1,954-mile border, mostly in the stretch of Mexico that borders Arizona and California. In the past 15 months, U.S. agents have busted increasingly sophisticated tunnels.

Geography and geology make the intensely urban Tijuana-San Diego corridor ideal for the tunnels. Tijuana is Mexico’s sixth largest city, with 1.3 million people, while San Diego is the eighth largest U.S. city, with several interstate highways. Moreover, soil here has a composition that’s easy to dig.

In a two-week span last November, U.S. agents shut down two sophisticated tunnels that led from an area near Tijuana’s airport to the Otay Mesa industrial park on the U.S. side. Some 49 tons of marijuana were seized. The discoveries marked the second year in a row in which elaborate tunnels were found within a mile of the busy Otay Mesa border crossing.

U.S. officials are sensitive about a public view that they aren’t finding the tunnels.

"Understandably, American citizens react to news stories about the discovery of a large tunnel, complete with plumbing, lights, ventilation and a rudimentary railway system, with a mixture of surprise, indignation, alarm and dismay," Laura E. Duffy, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, told the Senate drug caucus last June.

"How, they ask, can such a sophisticated illegal structure be constructed right under our noses?"

Part of the difficulty, she said, is that drug traffickers use horizontal drills that cost up to $75,000 and can cut without disturbing topsoil. The tunnels run anywhere from 30 to 90 feet deep, avoiding greater depths, which would hit underground water tables.

Drug traffickers also have been adept at setting up bogus U.S. companies to rent space in bustling Otay Mesa and its 600 warehouses and 12,000 businesses. Many firms are unaware of activities by their neighbors, perhaps noticing only if there’s truck traffic at unusual hours.

Garcia said that even with devices such as seismic sensors, a majority of tunnel busts came from tip-offs by informants or suspicious warehouse operators.

Big tunnels are thought to be the work of the Sinaloa Cartel, which has seized control of Tijuana from the local Arellano-Felix cartel after years of bloody conflict and now is operating in tandem with remnants of the group.

Sinaloa operatives employ mining engineers and architects to help construct their tunnels, while keeping knowledge of locations to as few people as possible.

Experts on the San Diego Tunnel Task Force say "some tunnel excavators in Mexico are killed when the job is done to prevent them from spreading the word on the location," Duffy told senators.

Marijuana growers are turning to ever-larger plantations to meet the capacity of bigger tunnels. Last July, soldiers found a 300-acre screened and irrigated marijuana plantation near San Quintin, 150 miles south of Tijuana, which was four times larger than any such site that had been seized before. Eight months earlier, soldiers seized 148 tons _ 134 metric tons _ of pot in Tijuana, a record.

U.S. and Mexican agents say that tunnel digging, using pneumatic spades, generally is limited to teams of six or seven men. They live at the Tijuana site where the tunnel begins, and excavation is timed to conclude with the harvesting of marijuana crops in late summer and early autumn, so there’s little time for the tunnel to sit idle and be detected.

"The process is tedious," Garcia said, involving working day and night and lugging bags of dirt along the shaft for removal.

But even with million-dollar investments, Garcia said, the tunnel builders "recoup that by making just one trip, given the value of the narcotics we’ve seized."

Most bales of marijuana carry stickers, often fanciful images such as Donald Duck, Captain America, Budweiser or Homer Simpson. The stickers indicate ownership and destination, U.S. agents said.

Tunnel operatives make sure to recoup their investments first.

"The way it works is the tunnel guys build it, so their stuff gets through first. Once it gets through, they start hiring out" to other drug organizations, said Louis Gomez, the supervisor of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which includes agents of Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

Tunnel shafts on the Tijuana side that a McClatchy Newspapers journalist visited included one hidden in the floor of a walk-in freezer in a warehouse that’s only two football fields away from warehouses on the U.S. side of the border.

Another shaft was hidden in a unique fashion: "It was the entire floor of a bathroom that went up and down, and they used a hydraulic lift like you’d see in a service station," Garcia said.

Tijuana Police Chief Alberto Capella Ibarra said the tunnels kept growing in sophistication.

"It speaks of the strength and economic power of the cartels, because these tunnels are a huge investment for them," Capella said.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Border Patrol completes more than 6 new miles of fence in Arizona

ABC News
February 15, 2012

DOUGLAS, AZ - U.S. Customs and Border Protection has completed the construction of more than six miles of border fence near the city of Douglas, Arizona with fencing that is significantly more difficult to break through, according to a news release from the agency Wednesday.

"This new fencing will greatly hinder transnational criminal organizations from attempting to commit their criminal acts,” according to Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief Richard A. Barlow. "It will allow agents to see threats more easily," he said.

The construction, which began in early October of last year, is part of the Border Patrol’s ongoing effort to strengthen the border fence by replacing fencing built in the 1990s with an 18-foot bollard-style fence on both sides of the Douglas Port of Entry.

The new fence is both taller and deeper, according to the release. The new fence has a below-grade foundation in areas that are susceptible to erosion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Texans on wrong side of border fence grow anxious

CBS News / Associated Press
February 11, 2012
by Christopher Sherman

(AP) BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Max Pons is already anticipating the anxiety he'll feel when the heavy steel gate shuts behind him, leaving his home isolated on a strip of land between America's border fence and the violence raging across the Rio Grande in Mexico.

For the past year, the manager of a sprawling preserve on the southern tip of Texas has been comforted by a gap in the rust-colored fence that gave him a quick escape route north in case of emergency. Now the U.S. government is installing the first gates to fill in this part of the fence along the Southwest border, and Pons admits he's pondering drastic scenarios.

"I think in my head I'm going to feel trapped," said Pons, who lives on the 1,000-acre property of sabal palms, oxbow lakes and citrus groves he manages for the Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve. "I need to have something that is much easier for me to have to ram to get through" if necessary.

Pons' concerns illustrate one of the complications in the government's 5-year-old effort to build a secure barrier along the border that would keep out illegal activity from Mexico without causing worse problems for the people living in the region.

In this lush area, the Rio Grande's wide floodplain precluded building the fence right on the border so it was set back more than a mile in places, running behind the levees. The result is a no-man's-land of hundreds of properties, and the people who work on them, on the wrong side of the divide.

The arrival of the gates will reveal whether the government's solution for this border fence problem will work. Can sliding panels in the fence controlled by passcodes allow isolated workers to cross when they need to while keeping intruders out?

Pons hopes the gates will open fast. "Because when is reinforcement going to show up?"

Some landowners also worry they'll become kidnapping targets for smugglers seeking passage through the 18-foot-tall metal fence.

Violence has surged in Tamaulipas, the Mexican state bordering this part of Texas, in the past two years. This week the State Department issued a new travel warning urging U.S. citizens again to avoid traveling there.

Residents in this rural area often see groups of illegal immigrants passing through or smugglers toting bundles. In October, the Border Patrol caught a high-ranking member of the Gulf cartel's Matamoros operations who had crossed about a half-hour upriver.

Gates will roll open on a metal track after a passcode is punched into a panel on or near the fence. Landowners would have permanent codes and could request temporary ones for visitors. Customs and Border Protection has begun testing its first two gates and plans to install 42 more in South Texas this year at a cost of $10 million.

For more than a year the tall steel bars and panels erected in segments on this stretch of the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border created an effect that was more gap-toothed grin than impenetrable obstacle.

When the gates are closed, the Texans on the other side won't be completely isolated, agency officials say. Border Patrol agents will continue to work both sides of the fence and can assist property owners. Many of the areas also are monitored by cameras and sensors.

But farmers point out that there is a lot the agents can't stop. They point out dusty footprints scaling the columns and say illegal immigrants can climb the barrier in seconds flat.

"It's the biggest waste of taxpayer money," said Leonard Loop at his produce stand east of Brownsville, where his family farms and some relatives' homes are in an area between the fence and the river.

Loop's nephew Paul said he was not looking forward to the delay the gates will add to the countless trips he and his brother make between fields and the barn with their equipment. He also worried about becoming a target for smugglers eager to use the gates for large shipments. They are wide enough for farm equipment.

"Any drug dealer is going to know anyone on this side has a way out," Paul Loop said, while crews harvested cabbage in a nearby field.

Othal Brand Jr., chairman and general manager of the Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3, said he welcomes the completion of the fence even though the district's headquarters is between the barrier and the river.

He said he's optimistic it will help deflect illegal crossings and other illegal activity as intended.

"It's like building a car and only putting three tires on it," he said. "Finish it. Get it done."