During a tense hearing on Capitol Hill, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson was pressed on immigration policy changes. Johnson said he was comfortable with the legal basis for the president's executive actions. During the hearing, Arizona Representative Ron Barber asked Johnson to return to southern Arizona, to hear the concerns of the people who live along the border.
Secretary Johnson told the Democratic Representative he plans to return to Arizona. “I plan to -- if you'll have me -- come early next year to Arizona. I owe the ranchers another visit,” he said. Secretary Johnson said that the new immigration policy will prioritize recent migrants for deportation, in response to concerns that more immigrants would come into the U.S. to take advantage of deferred action. Part of that plan will include increased security at the border.
However, some say that the answer is not more border patrol agents, but moving the agents to the actual border area. Southern Arizona rancher John Ladd is one of a number of ranchers who would like to see changes in Border Patrol activity. They claim the Border Patrol vehicles race across their land, tear up roads, and knock down fences, but rarely patrol the border itself.
Ladd's 14,000 acres of property have been in his family for over 100 years, and has become increasingly unhappy with how the Border Patrol agents treat his land. “They cut [the fences], run through them, run over water troughs. They like driving cross-country, making roads,” said Ladd. He continued, “About 30 percent of my annual income is spent on border issues -- illegals and Border Patrol -- damage issues.”
Secretary Johnson visited the border region earlier this year, to hear the concerns of ranchers and residents about drug smugglers and other migrants. Many of those concerns have not changed. Barber says one problem is where the agents patrol, and the answer is, “Border Patrol agents at the border, not 10, 15, 20 miles back. More horse patrols in the rugged territory and aerostats that will allow us to have radar looking down to see where the smugglers are coming from.”
Secretary Johnson said he would need additional funding to strengthen security at the border. “I need help with resources. I need help on the southern border in Arizona, in Texas and New Mexico for added detention capability, added surveillance capability, and I'm hoping Congress will support me on that,” said Johnson.
Congress is anything but united on their approach to immigration reform. It is doubtful that any action will take place before the new lawmakers take their places in the House and Senate next year. The Senate passed a historic bipartisan immigration bill back in June of 2013. The bill, co-sponsored by Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain made it through the Senate, but the House of Representatives has never taken up the bill for a vote. Barber and other politicians have called on Congress to pass immigration legislation. Johnson agreed that a congressional bill would be preferred to executive action.