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GOP's Jones on border: Troops, sensors, fences needed

Joined by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Republican candidate for governor Christine Jones promoted her border security plan Thursday night during a town hall in Tucson.

Around 70 people filled a conference room at the Hilton Double Tree hotel to hear Jones' plan, which includes deploying 1,200 Arizona National Guard troops along the border, an infusion of surveillance technology including ground-based sensors, and building more border fencing. 

National Guard troops would operate within line of sight in small teams, Jones said, creating a show of force for at least a year.

The addition of Guard troops would be a repeat of an experiment that started in 2006 under the Bush administration's Operation Jump Start, which deployed 6,000 National Guard troops across the U.S-Mexico border for two years at a cost of $1.6 billion.

The Obama administration echoed the program in 2010,  deploying 1,200 troops along Arizona's border for nearly a year at a cost of $160 million. 

Jones estimates that the total cost of her plan would be $270 million.

However, this spending will be in light of Arizona's projected budget deficits. By 2016 the general fund could be $236.8 million short. Jones believes that the Legislature can help her find the money.

Arizonans, she said, need to "take matters into our own hands" and secure the border because the Obama administration has abandoned its duty to enforce the law.

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"It's a dereliction of duty and an affirmative disobedience of the law," she said. Several in the crowd said "that's right" and the audience applauded.

Jones is one of a field of eight candidates vying to face Democrat Fred DuVal in November's general election. While former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith has stacked out positions that are somewhat more moderate, Jones and the rest of the field — Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Treasurer Doug Ducey, former California congressman Frank Riggs, and ex-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas — have maneuvered to out-conservative each other.

Last week, Jones issued a press release accusing President Barack Obama of conducting "the biggest 'coyote' operation in history" and blaming the administration for the recent influx of migrant children.

At Thursday's town hall, nine audience members stood and asked questions, nearly all of them focused on the federal reaction to Jones' border plan and the lawsuits surrounding SB 1070. The candidate responded, "I was a lawyer and I know it's not too popular, so I don't say it, but I've been sued a lot." 

"Instead of throwing 100 mud pies at the problem, let's find a solution," Babeu said.

Jones said that as an executive for GoDaddy, she had faced the federal government before when the National Security Agency asked to tap into the company's servers as part of a controversial digital dragnet. 

"We don't need to build the Great Wall of Mexico," Jones said. "But gosh darn it, can we afford not to do this?" 

Babeu argued for the plan, noting while Pinal County is far from the border, the problems of smuggling and illegal activity have created an difficult, frustrating problem.

"We have Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan protecting the United States, but I'm sure we could get them here to protect, guard and defend our country,"he said.

He noted his frustration with signs reading "Travel: Caution Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered in this Area" that are posted in Pinal County. 

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Babeu talked about the recent prosecution of six men accused of being cartel scouts and his experience in the Yuma Sector, where he spent 2006 as a National Guard officer commanding 700 soldiers with Task Force Yuma during Operation Jump Start. Babeu claimed that crossings dropped 97 percent in that period.

According to Border Patrol statistics, apprehensions of undocumented border crossers fell about 95 percent from 2006 to 2013 in that sector, with a 68 percent drop in 2006 — falling from 118,549 in 2005 to 37,992 the next year.

Babeu and Jones both had a dim view of Congress and the possibility that immigration reform would pass. 

"Comprehensive legislation rarely goes anywhere," Jones said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and former GoDaddy executive Christine Jones held a town hall to discuss Jones' plan for border security as part of her bid for the Republican nomination for governor.