January 25, 2005
A border county lawmaker wants to let police and sheriff’s deputies block minors from entering Mexico without their parents’ permission.
Sen. Robert Cannell, DYuma, said teens go to Mexico and get drunk, taking advantage of the country’s lax enforcement requiring drinkers to be at least 18. Then they get back in their cars, drive into the United States and kill themselves or others.
"I’ve had patients that I’ve seen from infancy die this way,’’ said Cannell, a pediatrician. The cross-border forays have become epidemic, he said, especially after proms and high school graduation.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik likes the idea of keeping unaccompanied kids out of Mexico.
"We get a lot of them killed on the highway coming back to Tucson,’’ he said. "It would be a helpful tool,’’ he said.
But Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, while acknowledging there is a problem, questioned the practicality of what Cannell wants.
Estrada said it would be a "daunting task’’ to stop all those vehicles and figure out exactly who is not yet 18. He also noted nothing in Cannell’s legislation actually makes it illegal to cross the line — or even empowers deputies to actually take a youngster into custody. In fact, the measure only lets an officer prevent entry into Mexico "and not otherwise detain the minor.’’
"I guess I have a question of how that would be accomplished if they say, ‘I’m sorry sir, I’m going into Mexico anyway,’ " Estrada said.
But Dupnik said he would welcome the new authority, even with the practical problems.
"Like most laws, you do the best you can with the resources you have,’’ he said.
Dupnik said it would be impractical to station officers along the routes to the border. But he said the proposal would let him "put a couple of guys down there on a Saturday night and let the juveniles know that somebody is watching.’’
Existing laws permit law enforcement agencies to set up roadblocks to check sobriety. But Dupnik said that’s not the answer to this problem.
"Prevention is the best way to handle it, not to catch them after they’re drunk but to stop them before they get drunk."
Cannell said the ideal solution would be for Mexico to enact — and enforce — a law setting the drinking age at 21. "But I don’t think that’s very likely,’’ he said.
The senator said his proposal, SB1146, is modeled after existing California law. But California requires officers to stop the minors they find who are attempting to cross the border. This measure would make it an option.
The measure is assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.