For the residents of Arizona’s Vekol Valley—80 miles north of the border with Mexico—Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that security at the border “is better now than it ever has been” must seem like a joke.
The area is a veritable highway for illegal immigrants traveling to the United States, and it’s marked by evidence of their passage. If the bullet-ridden signs warning, “Danger: ‘Active drug and human smuggling area. Visitors may encounter armed criminals’” aren’t enough of a dead giveaway, the evidence strewn across the valley ought to be proof enough.
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Vekol Valley and see it for myself. Just about a mile from Interstate 8, the Vekol Valley is home to spent tires, garbage from trafficking, and empty drug bales. Camouflage water jugs—bleach bottles painted black so as not to reflect the sun—spread as far as the eye can see. Toothbrushes, toilet paper, clothes, even children’s shoes litter the ground. Another few feet away are recent footprints not yet worn by the wind that can’t be more than an hour old. Welcome to the Grand Central Station of Arizona smuggling!
The images and destruction are startling (take a look for yourself). But what is even more troubling is that Vekol Valley isn’t immediately along the southwest border but 80 miles within U.S. territory (only 60 miles from Phoenix). As efforts to secure the border have squeezed smuggling routes, illegal immigrants and drug runners have increasingly sought to make the two-day trek across the southwest border and up through the Tohono O’odham reservation to the Vekol Valley.
All of this may seem shocking, but to the Arizona legislature this is nothing new. The expansive human and drug smuggling problem faced by the state is one of the reasons they passed S.B. 1495 earlier this year, allowing the governor to mobilize the State Defense Force (SDF) “for any reason” she sees fit. This would give the state a low-cost force multiplier to help aid the Border Patrol in halting illegal crossing and smuggling throughout Arizona. Yet the move to stand up the SDF remains stalled at Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.
The evidence of the illegal immigrant traffic speaks for itself. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, these pictures stand as a lengthy indictment of the border security challenges Arizona is facing, even while Secretary Napolitano and the Obama Administration seek to claim the border is secure. While there has been significant progress toward a more secure border over the past six years—including efforts by the Bush Administration to install 700 miles of fencing and deploy additional manpower—an amnesty would overwhelm any progress that has been made to secure the border, ensuring that what’s happening in the Vekol Valley will happen again all across the southern border.
Brewer has the power to act and aid in securing Arizona’s borders. It is time to stand up Arizona’s State Defense Force.