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Thursday, December 5, 2002

Border tour today for 4 in Congress

McCain, Kyl, Kolbe, Grijalva to go by copter


Four members of Arizona's congressional delegation, including both senators, are planning to spend today together in Southern Arizona, a rare event focusing on U.S.-Mexican border issues.

Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, Rep. Jim Kolbe and Rep.-elect Raúl Grijalva are scheduled to take a helicopter tour of the border and visit facilities in Nogales and Douglas.

Kyl is leading the event, which begins with a discussion at Tucson Medical Center of the cost of medical care for illegal border crossers. Kolbe said the senators requested the border tour.

"They haven't been down to the border, I think, for quite some time," Kolbe said. "I think it's fair to say this is more to bring them up to speed."

He and Grijalva were included in part because, once Grijalva is sworn in, they will represent Arizona's entire southern border, Kolbe said.

Grijalva said the four may have different perspectives on how to solve border issues, "but the fact that we're all going to take a look together at this border crisis is important. That's why I'm participating."

Grijalva said that in considering border issues today, he is going to focus on two: investigating the armed citizen patrols forming in Southern Arizona, and holding bipartisan congressional hearings on border issues.

After their discussion at TMC, the four men and their entourages plan to board U.S. Customs Service helicopters based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base about noon. The pilots are scheduled to take them over the border region southwest of Tucson, known to border agencies as the West Desert. That's the area where most of this summer's deaths due to heat exposure occurred.

From June through September, 116 crossers were known to have died in Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise and Pinal counties, according to an Arizona Daily Star analysis of death reports.

Kolbe said he finds such trips valuable.

"I have not flown out over the western desert ever, and I haven't been on the border by air in quite some time," he said.

Nearly 30 people will travel with the four, so many that customs will use three of its six Blackhawks to carry them, said Dennis Lindsay, chief of customs' air branch. Normally the helicopters are used for interdicting drug smugglers.

After flying over the West Desert area, the group is planning to land in Nogales and tour the Mariposa Port of Entry. Then it expects to fly to the new Border Patrol station just west of Douglas.

At Douglas, the members plan to discuss medical costs with representatives of hospitals in Nogales, Douglas and Bisbee, Kolbe said. The pilots are scheduled to have them back in Tucson around 6 p.m., Lindsay said.

"Since I spend a lot more time on the border with the Border Patrol, the kind of briefings they're going to be getting tomorrow will be things I've already heard," said Kolbe.

Said Grijalva: "I don't know if it's a question of finding something new, but I think it's significant we have the two senators there."

Whatever the four learn, they will set a record for Lindsay. Since arriving in Tucson in 1996, Lindsay said, he has taken many politicians on border tours, but "I've never had that many come through before."