Mechista Rep. more concerned with 'vigilantes' than invasion

Leaders fly in to see border

By Genevieve H. Gutierrez -12/9/02

The four members of Arizona's Congressional delegation representing southern Arizona came for a tour of the Mariposa Port of Entry on Thursday afternoon.

Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, Rep. Jim Kolbe and Rep.-elect Ral Grijalva, and their staff, arrived at the port's landing pad in three U.S. Customs Service Blackhawk helicopters, after an earlier tour of the Tucson Medical Center and state's west desert.

Once the dust settled and rotors stopped turning, Donna De La Torre, the Customs Service director of field operations for the Arizona Customs Management Center, gave the men an orientation.

She showed them enlarged photos of the port in 1999, and the improvements made to the port since then. The entourage was then taken by van from the landing pad to the inspection bay.

The members of Congress saw the facilities and technology up close, and asked numerous questions, being trailed all the while by a large group of their staff, local law enforcement officials and members of the television and print news media.

The entire group then returned to the landing pad, where a U.S. Customs podium was set up. Camera crews, photographers and journalists from Tucson and Ambos Nogales angled to get a good shot, or to record what was said, struggling against the wind and other media persons.

Sen. McCain was asked what he learned on the tour that he didn't know before.

"Frankly, nothing," he said. However, he said, the tour provided the opportunity to talk to local officials, be updated on the new technology being used at the port and "it focuses the mind."

He said the tour helped him to "re-appreciate the significance of the problems and number of challenges," on the border.

He said Congress and President George W. Bush had made a commitment to fight terrorism and "there will be increases in funding."

He said he wanted to meet with Immigration and Naturalization Services Commissioner Tom Ridge, "bring him down here and make him realize we have enormous challenges on the border."

When asked about the recent increase in U.S. tourist visa from $65 to $100, he said, "We'll go to work on it - $100 is a lot of money for any citizen - Mexican or American."

Sen. Kyl said, in flying over the area, he was struck by the number of foot and automobile paths leading up to and away from the border, marking patterns of illegal immigration.

He said he and McCain are part of a number of appropriations subcommittees. "Something we're all going to be working on is increasing funding for the technology that we bring to the border here," he said, adding that the CyberPort project was a priority.

Kyl said additional funding was needed to build up infrastructure and technology to expedite the movement of legitimate travelers, such as shoppers and border residents, through the border.

Rep. Kolbe said he mentioned the "forward thinking of Customs here in Arizona. We're very proud of that."

He said the federal government is working toward dual approach of border crossings, by allowing and encouraging trade and commerce, expediting crossings for shoppers and produce, and stopping contraband materials and illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.

He announced that $25 million had been secured in 2002 to enhance Homeland Security and cross-border traffic along the U.S.-Mexico border.

He said Nogales projects include an express-commuter lane for passenger vehicles, non-intrusive train inspection systems and a system to measure queuing time at the port of entry.

Rep.-elect Ral Grijalva said that on the helicopter ride into the port, "we saw the vastness of the area and how immense it is, and to some extent, how overwhelming it is. You come to appreciate how immense and complex the issues we're dealing with on the border are."

He said he would work toward investigating vigilante movements and their treatment of illegal immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in order to prevent abuses.

The throng of federal representatives and government officials was loaded into the helicopters and left in a flurry, on their way to Douglas where they were to talk about medical costs with representatives from Douglas, Bisbee and Nogales.