by Ginger Rough - Jun. 25, 2010 04:40 PM
The Arizona Republic
Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday reiterated her assertion that the majority of illegal immigrants are coming to the United States for reasons other than work, saying most are committing crimes and being used as drug mules by the cartels.
Brewer's remarks are an expansion of comments she made last week during a televised debate between the four Republican gubernatorial candidates.
In the first exchange, she was responding to opponent Matt Jette of Apache Junction, who opposes the state's tough new immigration law and is pushing a moderate platform that includes calls for comprehensive immigration reform.
In the debate, Jette said that most people who cross illegally into Arizona are "just trying to feed their families." Brewer disputed that, saying, "They're coming here, and they're bringing drugs.
And they're doing drop houses, and they're extorting people and they're terrorizing the families." The governor, who has become a national media figure since signing Senate Bill 1070 into law on April 23, went further on Friday, saying that the "majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming (into) the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels."
When pressed, Brewer said that even those who do come to the United States looking for work are often ensnared by the cartels.
"They are accosted, and they become subjects of the drug cartels."
Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Friday that they could not provide statistics on criminal-smuggling activity; U.S. Customs and Border Protection referred all calls to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Washington, D.C., press office, where no one was immediately available to comment.
But local advocacy groups and other data dispute the validity of Brewer's claims.
According to a February 2007 report from the University of Arizona's Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, "most immigrants who come to the United States illegally – especially those from less-developed nations – do so because U.S. employers hire them at wages substantially higher than they could earn in their native countries."
And data from the Washington, D.C.,-based Pew Hispanic Center suggests that visa violators represent nearly half of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. According to the center, as of May 2006, 4 million to 5.5 million people had entered the U.S. legally and then remained after their visas had expired. An additional 250,000 to 500,000 people entered legally with temporary border-crossing cards and then stayed.
The numbers represent the most recent data available.
"I find the (governor's) statements embarrassing," said Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network. "They are so without basis or fact. There is more than likely a case where that has happened, but not to the extent that the governor should be making that assertion."
Brewer's comments follow remarks she made last week on a cable news show, when she said that the state cannot afford the problems associated with illegal immigration — including violent crime — which she said included kidnappings, extortion and beheadings.
But FBI Uniform Crime Reports and statistics provided by police agencies show that the crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade, even as drug-related violence has spiraled out of control on the other side of the international line.
Statewide, rates of violent crime also are down.
Meanwhile, Brewer has continued to push the federal government for more resources on the Arizona-Mexico border.
On Monday, a delegation of about half a dozen officials from President Barack Obama's administration are scheduled to be in Arizona to talk about the president's pledge to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, among other things.
It is unknown how many of those troops will actually be coming to the state or when they will arrive, although Brewer said she hopes Monday's meeting will yield some specifics.
On Friday, the Governor's Office confirmed that she would meet with the administration officials — including representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice — at her office at the state Capitol in the early afternoon.
Adam Abrams, a White House spokesman, also confirmed Friday that members of the delegation, which includes Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan, would be visiting Tucson as well.
The delegation will hold "a series" of meetings with state law-enforcement officials and elected leaders, Abrams said.
Transcript of Brewer's comments
Question: You said that you believe that most illegal immigrants coming into the country were not doing it for work, but for other reasons. What was your basis for that?
Answer: Well, we all know that the majority of the people that are coming to Arizona and trespassing are now become drug mules. They're coming across our borders in huge numbers. The drug cartels have taken control of the immigration. …
So they are criminals. They're breaking the law when they are trespassing and they're criminals when they pack the marijuana and the drugs on their backs.
Q: What about the folks ... they're just coming here to find jobs and for their families. Are you saying most of those people are drug mules?
A: I believe today and in the circumstances that we are facing, that the majority of the illegal trespassers that are coming in the state of Arizona are under the direction and control of organized drug cartels, and they are bringing drugs in.
Q: They, being the actual immigrants coming across?
A: There's strong information to us that they come as illegal people wanting to come to work. And then they are accosted, and they become subjects of the drug cartels.
Q: So they're motivation is to work, and they get snared into (it)?
A: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Staff writers JJ Hensley and Dennis Wagner contributed to this report.
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