PHOENIX - The recent murder of a Cochise County rancher may provide the best chance in years to get additional the federal government to provide border security, the county sheriff said Monday.
Larry Dever said the death of Robert Krentz "has put an exclamation point on the problems that we face and have faced down there for some time.'' More to the point, he said, it has "launched a lot of interest that we've been trying to garner in other ways.''
Dever and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeau were in Washington for a telephonic press conference with Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl who were pushing a 10-point plan for border security.
Some of the elements are old, such as renewing the call the two senators made a year ago to put 3,000 National Guard troops along the border. But there are some other elements including funding for and expansion of existing federal programs.
"It's just sad and unfortunate it took this event to do that,'' Dever.
"While we have the nation's attention it's important that we strike now and that we get these suggestions implemented now,'' he continued. "I really feel that the window of opportunity will close very quickly.
McCain echoed the sentiment.
"The murder of Rob Krentz is all over not only Arizona but all over America,'' he said. Krentz was killed last month, with the presumption being his assailants were illegal immigrants.
McCain said that comes on top of the murder of three U.S. citizens in Juarez.
"The list goes on and on of the influence of the drug cartels,'' he said. And McCain said "most objective observers'' would argue that while the Mexican government isn't losing the battle, it also is not winning it.
He said that requires federal action.
"So it's not only the obligation of the federal government to secure our border,'' he said. "But also the states cannot afford to take a lot of the measures that then 10-point plan articulates.
Aside from renewing the call for additional Guard troops along the border, the package includes:
- Putting an additional adding 3,000 Customs and Border Patrol agents to the Arizona-Mexico border by 2015;
- Adding another $60 million in funding to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for costs related to illegal immigration and drug smuggling;
- Completing the entire 700 miles of border fence, with double and triple fencing at "appropriate locations'' along Arizona's southern border;
- Increasing the number of unmanned aerial vehicles and provide the resources to operate them 24 hours a day.
They also want additional federal cash to fully implement Operation Streamline in the Tucson sector, a process of quickly dealing with border crossers and jailing them rather than simply deporting them back to Mexico. Kyl said that system has almost entirely dried up illegal border crossings in the Yuma sector.
Dever called the list a "compilation of things previously discussed'' but placed in a single concept. He called them "concepts that we know will work if they're funded and if they're implemented.''
Aside from Dever, the two senators also brought Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeau to Washington to be part of the conference call. Both have endorsed McCain's reelection bid, as has Kyl.
But McCain said the release of the 10-point plan, coming in the middle of a pitched Republican primary with former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, was not political.
"I have made numerous visits to the border, including with the former head of (the U.S. Department of) Homeland Security,'' he said, referring to Michael Chertoff who ran the agency during the Bush administration. Homeland Security is now headed by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"I have a long record of legislative efforts as well as other efforts to try to get the border secure,'' McCain said. "It's also a fact, as I predicted a couple of years ago, that there has been a dramatic increase, as you have just heard from our sheriffs, in the violence and the level of the violence on the border.''
Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said the Border Patrol "is better staffed today than at any time in its 85-year history.'' He said there are now more than 20,000 agents, nearly double 2004 levels.
"The administration continues to evaluate additional law enforcement options as needed, including the use of the National Guard, along the Southwest border,'' he said. Chandler said his agency also is working with Congress on comprehensive reform of our immigration system, which would provide lasting and dedicated resources at our borders.''
As to the call for more Guard troops, McCain said he supported putting them there long before this year's election -- and even before the 2008 presidential election which he lost to Barack Obama.
In 2006 then-President George Bush sent the National Guard to the border as part of "Operation Jump Start,'' which placed the Guard in a support role, doing things ranging from building fences and surveillance to administrative tasks. The number of troops during the two-year mission peaked at 6,000 along the border, with about 2,400 in Arizona.
The goal of the operation was to provide help while the Border Patrol recruited and trained new agents. Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced two years ago their goals had been met and the troops would leave.