Border Patrol checkpoints focus of congressional field hearing

Published: May. 9, 2016 at 7:56 PM MST|Updated: May. 9, 2016 at 10:39 PM MST
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SAHUARITA, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A field hearing on border security Monday, May 9, brought out many diverse opinions about how to secure the border without damaging commerce, but there seemed to be general consensus that the border checkpoints hurt more than they help.

The congressional hearing in Sahuarita was chaired by District 2 Congresswoman Martha McSally, who is chairwoman of the Maritime Security Subcommittee.

A diverse group of politicians and regular citizens testified that the checkpoints, which are located 22 miles from the border, act as an impediment to commercial trade and do little to enhance security.

"Used to be that I had to advertise for 45 days to make sure no American can do this job," says Nan Stockholm-Walden, Vice President of Farmers Investment Council. "Now it's 75 days."

Many times those crops, like grapes or strawberries, will perish in the field before they can be harvested.

"A lot of policies in Washington don't work so well in the real world," said Stockholm-Walden.

McSally says she has "heard all this before" but wants to make it part of the Congressional record in hopes of adding to information, which may change policy.

She wants her Washington colleagues to hear how people who live in southern Arizona have concerns about deploying agents 22 miles in, rather that at the border.

"The business community is concerned it's impacting their business, their flow of traffic and attracting new business to our community," she said.

McSally also argues the smugglers go around the checkpoints leaving nearby neighborhoods vulnerable.

"It's a public threat to them," she said.

It is the Border Patrol's policy of "defense in depth" that allows time to make stops and arrests when someone, including drug smugglers, make it across the border.

In an effort to avoid the fixed, permanent checkpoints, the criminals just go around them and rejoin their route on the other side.

Some say it's time for a new policy that stations border agents along the border to enhance the fence, which runs for more than 600 miles. But at the same time, massing the border agents in the ports of entry along the border will only slow down commerce, which is nearly $2 billion in Douglas, AZ alone.

Others call for a renewed effort for immigration reform.

"We've had 20 years of border walls, more agents, more helicopters, more roads and none of that has solved the problem," said Dan Mills, of the Sierra Club. "We need to start looking at the root causes."

He says the policy needs to change to encourage people "to come through the front door rather than sneaking in the back door."

Arizona and much of the nation relies on a quick delivery of goods, services and produce. Anything that delays that costs money.

The testimony from Monday's hearing will be part of the Congressional record.

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