AZ House OKs warnings for travel north of Mexican line

Area within 62 miles would be watched for danger from crossers
2012-03-03T00:02:00Z AZ House OKs warnings for travel north of Mexican lineHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
March 03, 2012 12:02 am  • 

PHOENIX - Arizonans used to getting travel warnings about Rocky Point and Guaymas may soon be hearing advisories about Green Valley and Bisbee.

On a voice vote Friday, the state House approved legislation to have the head of the state Department of Homeland Security monitor intelligence from various sources to determine if they indicate "any type of warning about dangerous conditions in regard to illegal immigration activities."

It allows the director to put out that information "in a manner that will immediately warn the public of the danger." That can include not only telling the local media but everything from Facebook and Twitter to direct emails to those who have asked to be notified.

Despite the agency's statewide authority, HB 2586 says the potential danger zone where warnings will be sounded will be limited to just 62 miles from the border.

Although no specific lines have been identified, 62 miles would appear to take in some portions of the city of Tucson.

Rep. Peggy Judd, R-Willcox, said those in border areas have a special need to know what is going on.

Judd said she has started to carry a gun everywhere she goes, "which wasn't necessarily a bad thing." And she said farmers and ranchers in rural areas learn to be prepared.

"But a lot of us don't know exactly for what," Judd said.

"Are we going to have someone knock on our door?" she asked.

"Do we trust since it happened to the lady in the next town that it will happen to us eventually?" Judd continued. "Do we listen to just the media?"

Judd said these informal channels can lead to "hysteria."

"There are lots of rumors on the border," Judd told colleagues Friday. "This would give us one place to go to have accurate information that is well-vetted."

But Gilbert Orrantia, state homeland security chief, said in an earlier hearing on the proposal that what Judd wants is not as simple as it sounds.

"Threats come from various sources and various means in various ways," he said. "There are threats that are more credible, there are threats that are non-credible."

Orrantia, a former FBI agent, said law enforcement agencies work closely, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But that, he said, is no guarantee.

"There is no one agency that is going to know all of the threats that are out there," he said.

Orrantia said his agency already works with local law enforcement agencies to coordinate information and provide warnings to them. But he said it's something else to actually require him to provide warnings to the public, as Judd's original version required.

"I can't declare an area 'safe,' nor can I necessarily, without very, very imminent information, specifically say that a certain area is extremely dangerous," he said.

On a more practical level, Orrantia pointed out that unlike the federal Department of Homeland Security, his agency is not involved in law enforcement. It is in a support role, serving as the state's liaison to the federal agency and as adviser to the governor, and may not have the latest information.

He also said the kind of warnings Judd wants can have unintended ripple effects.

"If we were to warn with regard to a certain area or specific community, that can affect commerce, that can affect trade to that community," Orrantia said.

Judd agreed Friday to make changes to address those concerns.

Rather than require Orrantia to put out warnings based on any information he has, it left the final decision to his discretion. And the legislation also says Orrantia - or whoever succeeds him - is not liable for failing to issue a warning or for any losses or damages from warnings he does make.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said he's not convinced the legislation is a good idea.

"There is such a thing as too much information," he said. Gallego said Orrantia's department probably gets lots of information but lacks the analysts to sift through it "to figure out if that information is actionable, is accurate or is even useful."

The legislation still needs a final roll-call vote before going to the Senate.

On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at azstarnet.com/border

"There are lots of rumors on the border. This would give us one place to go to have accurate information that is well-vetted."

Rep. Peggy Judd, R-Willcox

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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