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Local Lawmen Dispute AZ Politicians’ Claim of Cartel Border Violence

June 8, 2010

PHOENIX - Some Arizona politicians running for office this year claim the state is in a "crisis," that Mexican drug cartel violence is "beginning to creep northward," and has "spilled over" into Arizona. But border-city law enforcement officials, such as Douglas police chief Alberto Melis, say they haven't seen it.

"We are active catching both undocumented aliens and drugs, mainly marijuana, coming across. But we have not seen, at least in my area, any of the violence come across."

Figures from the FBI and local police show Arizona border city crime rates essentially unchanged in the past 10 years, despite the explosion of drug-related violence in Mexico.

Because of recent increases in border-security personnel, Melis says, Douglas residents feel safe despite living right along the international boundary.

"In between us and the Border Patrol and all the Customs and other federal, we have a very high law enforcement presence in town."

To the west in Santa Cruz County, Sheriff Tony Estrada says the violence is across the border in Nogales, Sonora.

"They seem to have a problem on kidnapping and murders just about every day over there. But it hasn't spilled over here."

Estrada says the border is porous and needs to be secured, but he doubts that a fence is the answer. He says crossers will climb it or tunnel under, as they have for years in downtown Nogales, Arizona.

Estrada adds that a permanent border solution must involve a guest-worker program.

"People should come over into this country legally. I think that's the way it should be. However, the reality is that the majority of the people that are coming across are from extreme poverty. They would never have a chance of getting a visa or a work permit."

Estrada says law enforcement should "leave the good people alone" and concentrate on criminals.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ