Az state Sen. Gowan, other officials go to Washington to plead for border action

In all the time he’s lived near the border, Arizona Sen. David Gowan,
R-Sierra Vista, said he has never seen an immigration crisis as bad as
the one he’s seeing now.

“It’s the highest incursion we’ve had since I’ve lived down there,” said Gowan, who has lived in Cochise County for 30 years.

That was the message that Gowan and a handful of local officials and
activists from across the country hoped to deliver to members of
Congress while in Washington this week. As Terrell County, Texas,
Sheriff Thad Cleveland said, it’s not just a problem for border states.

“In Terrell County, we don’t have a crime problem. We’ve got a
national security problem,” Cleveland said at the Wednesday event
organized by the far-right Federation for American Immigration Reform, which wants to impose strict limits on even legal immigration. The Southern Poverty Law Center includes FAIR on its list of “hate groups,” citing its stance opposing immigration of all types, and noting connections between the organization’s leadership and white supremacist groups.

The event comes at a time when migrant encounters at the southern
border have reached historic highs. Customs and Border Protection said
that a record 2.47 million
migrants were encountered at the southern border in fiscal 2023, which
ended in September. Data from October is not yet available from CBP.

The data also showed that the Tucson sector, which encompasses most
of the state’s border with Mexico, saw the highest number of encounters
of any CBP sector for the last three months of the fiscal year.

A total of 373,625 migrants were encountered in the Tucson sector
for all of fiscal 2023, the third-highest sector for the whole year.
The Yuma sector, which covers the rest of Arizona’s border with Mexico,
recorded a total of 174,201 encounters for the year, according to CBP.

Gowan said he and the others came to Washington to share the reality of the southern border with members of Congress.

“The interior states, we need to get to those congressmen, tell them
what’s happening down there, what’s happening with the people on the
ground, how we need aid to our police forces. You know, certainly our
sheriff offices,” Gowan said.

Gowan said in an interview after the conference that he is not
against immigration, but he wants to ensure those who enter the country
do so legally and are carefully vetted.

“I believe in legal immigration. So we have ports of entry and that’s
where the legal immigration process should start,” he said. “Not just
crossing the border and breaking the laws already, but that’s … at a
lower level than what the cartels are doing.”

In addition to citing the surging numbers of migrants, Gowan and
others at the event repeated stories of drug and human trafficking they
said are coming across the border.

“The drugs and the smuggling that they’re bringing across is the
highest we’ve ever seen. And 50% of the fentanyl comes across our border
right there, that’s bad for us. That’s bad for our nation,” he said.
“So at least some of them (migrants), a lot of them are up here and
they’re, they’re criminals themselves. That’s what we’re seeing.”

But an attorney for the Southern Border Communities Coalition called that sort of rhetoric typical of the type of “dehumanizing language” used to “demonize” migrants.

“I think that there is a human right to migration, there is a human
right to be treated with respect … regardless of what the numbers of
migration are in any given day,” said Ricky Garza, the attorney.

Garza said migration “would run a lot smoother” if asylum seekers
were able to “go to the ports of entry and actually make a claim as
they’re obligated to do under international law.”

“But instead we’ve seen all these artificial roadblocks and limits
being thrown up and it can only be this many number of people a day
(entering the U.S.) and – that really has no basis in international
law,” he said.

They did not offer specific solutions to what they called the
immigration crisis, but most of the speakers at Wednesday’s event blamed
the Biden administration. Cleveland said it’s not the fault of one
administration or another, but that something that needs to be figured
out to address the national issue.

“This is a solvable problem,” said Cleveland, who spent 25 years
working for Border Patrol. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or
Republican, we need to fix this.”