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Border counties foot nearly $18 million bill for illegal immigration

Nov. 20, 2000

TUCSON (AP) - Taxpayers in Arizona's four border counties paid nearly $18 million last fiscal year in law enforcement and court costs directly tied to illegal immigration.

A breakdown of the amounts the state's four border counties paid for law enforcement and court services related to illegal immigration in fiscal year 1999:

Cochise County - $4.5 million

Santa Cruz County - $1.95 million

Pima County - $7.3 million

Yuma County - $4.19 million

Source: University of Arizona Institute for Local Government

Residents in Pima County paid the most, more than $7 million, according to a study conducted by the University of Arizona and funded by the U.S. Justice Department.

"Our county taxpayers are bearing the burden of the cost of illegal immigration," said Sharon Bronson, a Pima County supervisor who serves as co-chairwoman of the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition. "This really should be borne by the nation at large. It's a federal policy that causes these additional costs."

Bronson's argument paralleled a long-standing complaint by officials in U.S. counties all along the 2,000-mile Mexican border. Officials there say they bear a disproportionate share of the costs of illegal immigration in their states because their jails, courts and hospitals are often inundated by illegal immigrants while other areas never feel the impact.

The consensus among county officials is that the federal government should foot the bill. It's a particular concern in Arizona, which according to the study tallied 39 percent of all Border Patrol apprehensions in the four border states. The other states are Texas, California and New Mexico.

"Arizona is clearly the state of choice for entering into the United States from Mexico without documentation," the study said.

The study also showed that the effect of illegal immigrants on the law enforcement and judicial systems can be crippling in Arizona's smaller counties.

In Santa Cruz County, it eats up about 30 percent of the annual budget.

"These are very small, tax-based counties. When you put this kind of expense on them, it's overwhelming," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who shepherded a $3 million emergency aid package through the U.S. Senate last session to help the border counties.

Tanis J. Salant, principal investigator for UA's portion of the study, said about 60 percent of the Cochise County Sheriff's Department's workload relates to illegal immigration.

The county, the most popular illegal crossing area in the nation, spent more than $4 million on law enforcement and court costs related to illegal immigrants last fiscal year.

"There are so many private ranchers and rural homes along the border that deputies are called in to apprehend and detain people crossing and wait for the Border Patrol to arrive," Salant said.