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Arizona Border Residents Skeptical Of Latest Immigration Plans

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Aired 1/29/13

Border security played a big role in the latest immigration reform plan proposals, but in Southern Arizona, it's still an issue that has to get ironed out for anxious residents.

Workers raised the gate on the border fence of the U.S.-Mexico boundary to clean away debris from a cross-border wash. Accumulated debris has knocked down fence segments in the past.

DOUGLAS, Ariz. -– Border security played a big role in the new immigration reform plan proposed by Senators on Monday and -- to a lesser extent -- in President Barack Obama's speech in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

But in Southern Arizona, it's still an issue that has to get ironed out for some anxious border residents.

Rancher Ed Ashurst was one of the dozens of people who crowded into a meeting hosted by Democratic Rep. Ron Barber on Monday to listen to the government’s plans.

"We’ve heard it all before, and they refuse to address the issue,” Ashurst said.

He ranches on the border near Naco, Ariz., up the highway from Douglas, where the meeting was held.

"I was on the border Friday for three hours. There was a drive-through while I was there and the Border Patrol did not respond," Ashurst said.

The fact that smugglers could just drive through the border fence leaves the rancher unimpressed with the current Homeland Security strategy. And that makes him skeptical of a new immigration reform plan.

The meeting was the first of two that Barber is holding. It followed a revealing audit from the Government Accountability Office that showed most of the U.S. Border Patrol’s resources in its busiest region, the Tucson sector, aren’t actually on the border.

Rebecca Gambler is the GAO auditor who extrapolated the numbers. "Fifty-seven percent of agent workdays are scheduled for interior zones which do not have miles on the border," she said.

In other words, last fiscal year, less than half of the hours worked by agents in the Tucson Sector were actually spent working on the border.

Congressman Barber called that policy outdated.

"The people that are here tonight in large part are ranchers. They are in the most vulnerable part of the area because there’s very few agents there to help defend their property and to provide safety," Barber said.

He said the Border Patrol is placing new resources like horse patrols out in the rural areas. And any new immigration reform plan will have to satisfy the people who live there.

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