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Governor girds for border war

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Posted: Monday, January 9, 2006 5:04 am

Gov. Janet Napolitano is finally ready to ask state lawmakers to do something about the problem of people crossing the border illegally and staying here.

But none of the governor’s proposals goes far enough to satisfy key Republican legislators. They intend to send her more comprehensive measures — all but daring her to veto them in this election year in a state where residents voted in 2004 to restrict benefits to those not here legally.

The governor told Capitol Media Services her State of the State speech, set for today, will include several specific proposals.

Last year’s address, by contrast, simply blamed the federal governments in both the United States and Mexico for not taking responsibility.

Nothing Napolitano is expected to propose, though, is actually designed to keep out people who aren’t legally entitled to be here.

"The role for the state is to provide more support on the law enforcement side for crimes associated with illegal immigration that are state law crimes," she said.

These include people trafficking in fraudulent documents, human trafficking and vehicle theft.

Napolitano also promised more money for local law enforcement agencies "particularly in the border counties, which are fairly sparsely populated so this becomes a dis- proportionate burden on them."

But the governor continues to balk at the idea that state and local governments should be actively involved in stopping the flow across the border in the first place.

That, she said, is the job of the federal government, which needs to do more.

Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said that may be true.

But Pearce, one of the leaders in the fight against illegal border crossing, said the failure of the federal government to do its job forces action on the state and local level — even if it does use state tax dollars.

"You have to look at what it costs us in health care and education and crime," he said.

And there are costs, even in the wake of voter approval in 2004 of a measure designed to deny certain public benefits to people here illegally.

For example, hospitals cannot turn away patients in emergency situations.

And those who are poor are entitled to coverage for emergencies from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s health insurance program.

And Arizona schools are forbidden from inquiring about the legal status of children.

That means the state spends money not only on basic education but also to comply with a federal court order to ensure that they learn English.

Three bills that Napolitano vetoed last year are likely to land on her desk again.

But the governor already is thinking about why she might reject them again.

One would permit state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Napolitano said without cash for the required federal training that is an "unfunded mandate."

A second bill would bar state and local agencies from recognizing the ID card issued by the Mexican consulate for any government services.

Napolitano said that bill is no longer necessary because the Mexican government is tightening up security procedures to ensure that the cards are issued to the right people.

And a third would say that students here illegally cannot qualify for lower Arizona resident tuition at state community colleges and universities.

Napolitano rejected that as unnecessarily harsh, a view that has not changed.

But a host of new — and more comprehensive — proposals also could make their way to her office.

One is a $50 million plan to have Arizona help seal its border with Mexico.

That includes walls as well as a type of radar that would enable state law enforcement officers to monitor pedestrians as far away as three miles south of the border, enabling police to stop them once they enter the country.

A related measure would create a 100-person division within the Arizona Department of Public Safety specifically charged with stopping and rounding up illegal entrants.

Pearce said he envisions that as an extension of a special DPS squad that already targets gang activity.

Napolitano also will push for more DPS officers.

And she wants them to do things such as helping to stop people from stealing cars and driving them south into Mexico.

"I don’t know that they need an expanded role," she said. "I think they need expanded manpower, not just for immigration-related matters but because we have more highways and more drivers."

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