Arizona will receive another 643 federal agents in the next 10 months to guard the U.S.-Mexico border, the largest share of new increases approved by Congress earlier this year, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Tuesday.
Once the new agents are in place by October, the Border Patrol work force in Arizona will jump by nearly 22 percent and will double in size from 2000 levels, according to data provided by Border Patrol officials.
Congress approved funding for 1,700 additional border agents in the current fiscal year. Chertoff said all will be assigned to four Southwestern border states.
Arizona officials have complained the state was neglected while border enforcement resources were expanded in more urban areas of California and Texas. Those efforts in the late 1990s led to dramatic increases of illegal immigration into Arizona and record numbers of reported deaths from exposure to extreme heat and cold.
"For years, we’ve been trying to get the federal government to understand the size and scope of our border problem in Arizona and commit the necessary resources to deal with it," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., in a written statement. "It’s very gratifying to finally see all that effort begin to pay off, particularly in areas like Yuma, which have been slighted so often in the past."
The new agents will be assigned to the two sectors of the Border Patrol that cover the state’s border with Mexico.
Border Patrol officials also have decided the Tucson sector will receive $35 million for added infrastructure, including: Vehicle barriers in the Ajo and Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation areas; improved roadways there and around Naco and Douglas; added stadium-type lighting on either side of Naco and Douglas, and additional heavy steel fencing in the Douglas and Naco areas.
The announcement of new resources came the same day as the introduction of new legislation on border security scheduled for a House vote next week.
Authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the bill combines several other proposals to serve as a comprehensive crackdown on illegal immigrants and as a new mandate for employers to verify a potential worker’s legal status.
Sensenbrenner’s bill doesn’t include President Bush’s guest worker program proposal, which had been predicted for months because of strong opposition from some House Republicans.
But Rep. Jim Kolbe, RAriz., said focusing only on enforcement won’t be enough to significantly reduce illegal immigration.
‘‘We’ve had a 400 percent increase in the number of agents in Arizona, we’ve used more technology and all that, and the people are still coming in the same numbers as before,’’ Kolbe said. ‘‘It’s just more expensive, it’s more difficult, and they probably have to try three times instead of once to get across. But they’re still coming. As long as there’s the demand for the jobs here, and the supply of people willing to do them . . . people are going to do those jobs.’’
- The Associated Press contributed to this report