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5/30/00

Kolbe urges Clinton: Act now to calm U.S. border

The congressman asks the president to intervene, saying tragedy may strike unless action is taken to keep vigilantes and immigrants at bay.

President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno are being urged to intervene in Arizona's increasingly volatile border situation involving the continual flood of illegal immigrants and newly organized vigilante ranchers.

In a letter to Clinton yesterday, U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona pleaded for "personal intervention" by the president before "tragedy" strikes.

"The situation has reached a crisis point," Kolbe, a Republican, said in his letter. "The absence of hope has created volatility. Anti-foreigner sentiment mounts, as does anger with the federal government. Residents, acting in unilateral fashion, are now taking detentions into their own hands."

There has not yet been a response from Clinton.

Meanwhile, in a letter yesterday to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, the president of the League of United Latin American Citizens demanded federal officials stop vigilante ranchers in Cochise County and elsewhere.

"Although we are sympathetic to the ranchers' apprehensions over the trespasses, we cannot accept that they are participating in 'illegal immigrant roundups,' " wrote Rick Dovalina, LULAC national president. "Clearly, there is a grave danger that the potential for violence will escalate and human abuses against undocumented workers may increase in likelihood if something is not done to curtail these activities immediately."

Dovalina said there have been 27 vigilante incidents in Arizona since January 1994 - including 15 allegedly involving one family of ranchers from Douglas, the Barnetts.

Dovalina called roundups by the Concerned Citizens of Cochise County and the California-based American Patrol "obvious civil and criminal actions" that warrant federal investigation.

"The chilling invitation issued by local ranchers to join a Neighborhood Ranch Watch basically invites vacationers to hunt Mexicans for sport," Dovalina said.

Last week, Arizona's four border sheriff's - including Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik - formed an alliance to lobby for more federal help to combat illegal immigration.

The sheriffs also offered their support to the ranchers fighting back. "The Border Patrol hasn't been very effective in protecting the property and lives of people who live on the border," Dupnik said.

In Kolbe's letter to the president, copies of which were sent to Reno and Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Doris Meissner, he said that the federal government has turned its back on its responsibility to keep the U.S. border in check.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sent a similar letter to Reno on Friday. "The people of Cochise County cannot tolerate the lawlessness, crime and property damage associated with the absence of an appropriate federal response to the flood of illegal aliens any longer," McCain wrote.

Officials with the INS, which oversees the Border Patrol, maintain that the agency is responding to border communities' concerns.

Ten agents have been added to the 24-agent ranch patrol in Cochise County and by the end of September, 121 new agents will be permanently deployed to the Tucson sector, which includes all of the Arizona-Mexico border except Yuma. The sector now has 1,241 agents.

Apprehensions of illegal immigrants continue to soar, with the Tucson sector reporting 65,213 apprehensions in April - 37 percent more than in April 1999. More than half of all apprehensions in the Tucson sector were in the Douglas area.