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Napolitano Declares Emergency, OKs Funding for Border

By Paul Davenport/
Associated Press
      PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano declared an emergency Monday in four border counties because of problems related to illegal immigration and moved to provide local governments in those counties with up to $1.5 million in state funding.
    Napolitano's order said failure by the federal government to secure the border allowed a flood of illegal immigration that threatened public health and safety, "thereby necessitating immediate action by the state ... to aid its border counties.''
    Napolitano's order directly released $200,000 from the state's emergency fund for disasters while her emergency council released an additional $1.3 million, spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said.
    The money is intended for use by counties and municipalities for a variety of purposes, including overtime pay for law enforcement officers, repairs of border fences, costs related to illegal immigrants' deaths, L'Ecuyer said.
    Napolitano's action followed by three days a similar declaration by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
    Arizona is the nation's busiest entry point for illegal border-crossings, and illegal immigration has emerged as a significant political issue.
    Crimes and other problems associated with the border include illegal immigration, vehicle thefts, drug smuggling and property damage.
    "All of this, bottom line every last bit of this, is a federal responsibility but the federal government has not done what it needs to do and has promised to do,'' said L'Ecuyer. She added that the actual damage and the level of frustration compelled Napolitano to act.
    The four counties — Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz and Yuma — and local governments in those counties now will apply to the state Division of Emergency Management for money.
    Some already have approached the state with requests and decisions on funding could be made within four to six weeks, L'Ecuyer said.
    "Some of them already have a good idea in writing of what they need,'' L'Ecuyer said, citing the city of Nogales' desire for overtime pay for police patrols near the border and a similar requested by Santa Cruz County for overtime pay for deputies as well as money for crime scene kits, night-vision goggles, riot gear and radios.
    Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said the funding was welcome but not enough. "We have obviously not received the attention and assistance from the federal government that we feel we deserve,'' Estrada said.
    Estrada said a measure of the severity of the border-related burdens placed on his county is evident in the inmate population of the county jail in Nogales. Half of the jail's 100 inmates are Mexican nationals, most of them illegal immigrations who were arrested for crimes committed in Arizona, he said.
    A Republican legislator who has introduced numerous bills targeted illegal immigration said Napolitano's action was welcome but "way, way overdue.''
    "It's Janet come lately,'' said Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa. "She should have done it months ago. She should have done it two years ago.''
    Richardson's declaration Friday covered four New Mexico counties along the border and let him free up money to help law enforcement, to pay for a state Office of Homeland Security field office, to fence a Columbus-area livestock yard where cattle have been killed or stolen and other similar efforts.
    The executive order made $750,000 immediately available to Dona Ana, Luna, Grant and Hidalgo counties, and Richardson pledged an additional $1 million.
    Napolitano and Richardson are both Democrats.
    In a related development, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake said Richardson's declaration indicates the need for Congress to act on immigration legislation.
    "As Arizonans well know, the federal government's inability to control the border has been a crisis for some time,'' Flake, R-Ariz., said Monday.
    Napolitano also has accused the federal government of repeatedly failing to act on illegal immigration, particularly on reimbursement of state and local government costs for apprehending, prosecuting and imprisoning illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Arizona.
    In July, Napolitano had the state Department of Public Safety convene a closed-door meeting of law enforcement officials to explore ways to lessen immigration problems in Arizona. Those talks included discussions of a pilot project being launched by the state to have a dozen DPS officers trained to assist local police and federal agents in immigration cases.
    Napolitano drew criticism earlier this year for vetoing a proposal to give state and local police authority to enforce federal immigration law. She said the bill didn't provide any money to carry out the duties.