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May 26, 2000

Border sheriffs join forces to fight illegal crossings

According to a report in the Tucson Citizen, Arizona's four border sheriffs - including Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik - have formed an alliance to lobby for more federal help to combat illegal immigration.

The sheriffs of Pima, Cochise, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties, dismayed over a federal border policy that essentially has moved the bulk of migrant traffic to Arizona, also sympathized with rural residents coping with thousands of trespassers on their properties.

"The Border Patrol hasn't been very effective in protecting the property and lives of people who live on the border," Dupnik said.

He complained rural residents have been misrepresented in the news media as radical vigilantes when in fact they have not acted illegally.

Ranchers and others are just protecting themselves and their property from trespassers and the trash, human waste and environmental degradation that they leave behind.

"People in the urban areas would not tolerate it," Dupnik said of the illegal crossings.

The sheriffs are calling themselves the Border Sheriffs Alliance.

The group said it wants U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to call congressional hearings on the immigration problem, and it wants federal money to hire more deputies to help protect rural residents coping with the wave of immigration.

"We don't have the personnel, we don't have the budgets to deal with this," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada.

Estrada said sheriff's deputies are familiar with the people and territory on the border, and are prepared to cope with immigration-related problems. The sheriffs said they had not decided whether to ask the government to federalize deputies so they could perform immigration duties.

Rather than hold hearings, Kyl said he may write language into an appropriations bill to authorize local deputies to perform immigration duties. The Immigration and Naturalization Service opposes the idea, the senator said.

INS spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the agency wants to work closely with local law enforcement.

The Border Patrol is part of the INS. Kice said the agency is responding to the border communities' concerns.

"New resources are arriving on a daily basis," she said.

The Border Patrol is adding 10 agents to its 24-agent ranch patrol in Cochise County.

Twelve all-terrain vehicles are being dispatched to the Douglas area, and 121 new agents will be deployed permanently to the Tucson sector by the end of September.

The Border Patrol hired 350 new agents for the Tucson sector in 1999. But with many agents leaving the agency, Tucson has a net gain of 126 agents in fiscal 2000. The sector employs 1,241 agents.

Kice said the Border Patrol plans to publish a newsletter so residents will be informed of patrol activities.

She said the agency also is planning a "citizens academy" to educate residents about what the Border Patrol does.

After the Border Patrol gains more control in Cochise County, the sheriffs warned the INS strategy will push illegal crossings to Yuma County, where immigrants face extremely harsh conditions and could die in greater numbers.

"There's no lives worth this," said Yuma Sheriff Ralph Ogden.

The Tucson sector of the Border Patrol apprehended more than 76,000 illegal immigrants in March alone.

"We didn't invite it. We don't welcome it. But we have it," said Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever.

The sheriffs said they want to be included in discussions of the federal government's border strategy.