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Giffords: Border security transcends election year politics

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Giffords: Border security transcends election year politics

  • U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
    Courtesy Giffords' officeU.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Our nation’s border security efforts are a litany of failure.

Robert Krentz was a victim of that failure, murdered by a suspected drug smuggler on a Southern Arizona ranch that has been in his family since territorial days.

Pinal County Sheriff’s Deputy Louie Puroll was a victim of that failure, shot by a suspected drug smuggler while on patrol in a remote stretch of desert south of Phoenix.

And the residents of cities and towns throughout Arizona are victims of that failure, forced to live in fear as smugglers use our backyards as a gateway to the rest of the country.

Arizonans have for years been forced to live with the federal government’s failure to do its job and secure our border. Now, thanks in large part to a new immigration law that is the direct result of that failure, my state stands at the epicenter of a contentious national debate over illegal immigration.

Recent incidents of border related violence might be mere footnotes to the many enraged discussions taking place about that divisive law, which requires local law enforcement authorities to demand that people suspected of being illegal immigrants prove they have the right to be in this country. But let me assure you, Rob Krentz is not a footnote to me or the vast majority of people I represent.

For those of us who live near the border, Mr. Krentz is the human face of the border security crisis confronting our nation. For us, border security is far more than a topic for a public policy debate. It is an absolute necessity. It is a matter of life and death.

In any discussion over border security or immigration policy, it is all too easy to dwell on our failures – there have been many since passage of the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, the last overhaul of our immigration laws. It is, however, more productive to discuss what steps have been taken and, more importantly, where we must go from here.

There are no silver bullets. No one has a magic wand. Securing our borders will require work – hard work and a willingness for Democrats and Republicans to work together.

The Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol is the nation’s busiest drug- and people-smuggling corridor. When I took office in January 2007, it was the nation’s only sector without an interior Border Patrol checkpoint.

I worked with the Border Patrol and the community to establish a checkpoint on Interstate 19, the highway connecting the Mexican border with Tucson, Phoenix and the rest of the nation. We held 17 meetings and our discussions were often spirited, but a checkpoint now is in operation.

The lesson is obvious: bringing stakeholders together is critical.

Last April, I convened a meeting of more than 60 federal, state and local law enforcement officers to discuss drug violence in northern Mexico and its spillover into the United States. The result was two pieces of legislation I introduced over the past few weeks.

One bill regulates stored-value devices, a money-laundering tool favored by drug cartels. The other bill imposes tough new penalties on smugglers who use ultralights – small, low-flying, single-passenger aircraft – to bring illegal drugs into the United States.

Increasing funding and manpower for the Border Patrol also is essential. Boots on the ground matter. This is why, immediately following the murder of Mr. Krentz and again after the shooting of Deputy Puroll, I urged President Obama to deploy National Guard troops to rural Southern Arizona.

I am pleased that president agreed to send 1,200 Guardsmen to the border. Details of what the Guard will be doing have yet to be worked out, but I and Rep. Ted Poe of Texas believe their rules of engagement should allow them to be armed with their weapons loaded and be allowed to fire those weapons in self-defense.

But border security must be a bilateral commitment. Mexican authorities must take substantive and continuing action to contain the drug violence that has wracked their country. I made that point personally to Mexican President Felipe Calderón after his address to a joint meeting of Congress and in a recent meeting with top national security officials from the United States and Mexico.

Ultimately, Congress must fix our broken immigration laws. That is the only way we will have a way to identify all people from other countries who are here – including millions who entered legally but have overstayed their visas.

But we cannot address that difficult task until we, as a nation, control our own borders. Today, we do not.

Border security is not a Republican issue, a Democratic issue or a campaign issue. It is an American issue. It is an issue of national security. And it is an absolute necessity.

Gabrielle Giffords represented Arizona’s 8th Congressional District from 2007 to 2012, when she resigned to focus on her recovery after being wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings. She founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, along with husband Mark Kelly, to focus on preventing gun violence.

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