Fed neglect hurts border counties
Opinion by Sharon Bronson

It’s no secret that the federal government’s efforts to secure our border with Mexico have been a catastrophic failure. What’s little known, however, is the enormous cost to residents of border counties that has resulted from these ineffective policies.

A research report commissioned by the U.S.-Mexico Border Counties Coalition and performed by the University of Arizona was released this month.

It quantifies these costs to the 24 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border in the area of criminal justice and they are staggering.

Collectively, all border counties in the United States spent $1.23 billion of their local budgets during the past eight years to process undocumented immigrants who were arrested for committing crimes. In Pima County this eight-year total was more than $95 million, with almost $15 million spent in 2006 alone. And if these totals reflected the costs related to health care and emergency services for undocumented immigrants, that number could double.

These extra costs are being borne by law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, courts and the jail. The U.S. government has acknowledged the fiscal burdens placed on county government as a result of federal policies related to immigration and security by implementing programs like the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program and the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative. However, less than 3 percent of these costs were reimbursed by the federal government though, clearly, they have allowed this situation to escalate to critical proportions.

The result is that in addition to the overall degradation of the quality of life for county residents as a result of this exported violence and crime, county taxpayers are shouldering a disproportionate burden to pay for these services. We are paying more simply because we are geographically first in line to the problem.

In fact, the dramatically escalating violence associated with illegal immigration, drugs and other contraband along Pima County’s border with Mexico has led Sheriff Clarence Dupnik to establish a Border Crimes Unit at an initial cost of $1.8 million.

The $15 million Pima County spent in 2006 on undocumented immigrant crime is more than $15 for every county resident, every year. In total, it is more than the entire annual budget of Pima County’s Parks and Recreation Department.

The United States’ failed border and immigration policies have required the shifting of resources from other critical needs in our community. Law Enforcement, libraries, parks and transportation have all been shortchanged as a result.

Tucson was recently ranked as one of the top regions in the country in attracting new jobs and firms. But that could change if border violence and crime continue to escalate and local government is forced to divert even more of your local tax dollars into dealing with these failed federal policies.

That this national problem is being largely paid for by local, border-county taxpayers is shameful. In this election year we must encourage and assist those who will represent us at the federal level to not only secure the border and enact meaningful immigration reform but also to provide full reimbursement to local governments for the cost when these federal responsibilities are not met.

Read the full U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition report on law-enforcement and criminal-justice costs at www.bordercounties.org.

Write to Sharon Bronson at district3@pima.gov.