Flanked by local Arizona law enforcement officials, U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, R-Ariz., unveiled a 10-point plan Monday to solidify Arizona's porous, crime-ridden border. The plan calls for 3,000 National Guardsmen to be deployed to the state's border, which would be be monitored by unmanned aerial vehicles 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"You would not believe how effective a few National Guardsmen can be," said Kyl.
The plan was announced on the same day the Arizona state Senate considered a controversial bill that would require immigrants to carry alien registration documentation at all times, as well as empower police to question individuals who they suspect of being undocumented. The bill, which McCain said he supports, cleared the Arizona House last week.
Other elements of their proposal included the completion of 700 miles of fencing along the border, as well as an additional $40 million for Operation Stonegarden, a program that provides grants and reimbursement to local law enforcement for border security-related costs. The plan also calls for the permanent addition of 3,000 Custom and Border Protection agents.
But the senators made it clear which element of the plan is most critical.
"It must begin with the immediate dispatch of 3,000 National Guard troops," said McCain.
The senators were joined by border county Sheriffs Larry A. Dever and Paul R. Babeu, whom Kyl said were consulted on the proposal. The sheriffs said that, of the four states that border Mexico, the security crisis in Arizona is the worst.
Babeu, president of the Arizona Sheriff's Association, said that, of the 1 million people entering the U.S. illegally, more than 600,000 pass through Arizona. Dever, a member of the National Sheriff's Association Board of Directors, added that, of that 600,000, 17 percent have been convicted of serious crimes and even more may have committed them.
"Our citizens are in jeopardy," said Babeu. "This has reached epidemic proportions."
Angela Kelley, vice president for immigration policy with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said that border security must be front and center but that she wished the proposal was part of broader immigration reform.
"It's disappointing to see them limiting their attention to the issue" of border security, said Kelley, adding that the goals of the proposal cannot be achieved if they aren't coupled with other reforms, such as a framework for future legal immigration and a plan for dealing with the 12 million undocumented workers in the United States.
The senators and sheriffs disagreed, saying the issue of border security is separate from and more pressing than comprehensive immigration reform.
"This isn't about whether we're for immigrants coming here or not," said Babeu. "This is about securing our international borders."
Kelley also criticized McCain for his endorsement of the Arizona immigration law, saying the law was going to "effectively target any foreign looking person in Arizona."
"It's a disappointment to see a senator with so much experience and smarts on this issue endorse legislation that will not only not stop illegal immigration but will wreak havoc on Arizona's diverse communities," she said.