Tim Steller: Border trip gives Brewer compatible viewpoints

2013-03-27T00:00:00Z 2013-03-27T11:53:38Z Tim Steller: Border trip gives Brewer compatible viewpointsTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When Gov. Jan Brewer toured the Arizona-Sonora border area last month, she met only with people who share her view of the borderland as out of control.

One group was officers of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents' union known for its hawkish stance in favor of ever-increased staffing at the international line.

The other was a group of unnamed Southern Arizona ranchers.

The day after the governor's Feb. 12 tour, Brewer's office refused to release the names of the ranchers she met with, though I argued to them that the public has a right to know who is influencing the governor's border policy.

"I know that those individuals preferred to meet in private in order to allow them to be absolutely candid and so that their identities would not be exposed to the cartels, etc.," spokesman Matt Benson told me by email on Feb. 13.

So I made a public-records request of the governor's agenda and found the five ranchers' names that way. I've been able to reach three of the five ranchers, and they had no security concerns about their names being released.

Indeed, all five have been quoted in publications about border security, some of them frequently. And all share the view that the border is out of control.

John Ladd, whose property is on the border near Naco, and Ed Ashurst, who ranches north of Douglas, were two of those who met with Brewer and have been outspoken in their frustration with border insecurity.

Both told me Tuesday what they told Brewer last month: They're seeing many fewer old-fashioned border crossers heading to the United States for work or family, and more drug smugglers.

"The border is wide-open. The cartel does whatever it wants down here," Ashurst told me by phone. The Department of Homeland Security "does not have control of the border in any way, shape or form."

Ladd said he and the other ranchers largely agreed in the assessments they passed on to Brewer that day.

"What we're seeing on our ranch is they're not the worker types. They're the spotters or scouts," Ladd said. "The family groups and people who are trying to get a job, I don't see that anymore. I see young men who are doing something wrong, in my opinion."

Another rancher who met with Brewer, Kelly Glenn-Kimbro, wasn't available to talk Monday and Tuesday, but I emailed with her mother, Wendy Glenn, who told me this was just the latest of several times her daughter has met with Brewer.

The fact that the five ranchers agree and view the border as out of control doesn't make them wrong - I'm sure they're accurate in describing what they've seen. But it does make Brewer's view of the border incomplete.

Townspeople and even some other rural residents in Southern Arizona have different views based on their locations and their personal outlooks.

It's especially important to get broad points of view this year, when proposals for immigration reform are hinging on measures of border security. Some U.S. senators have proposed that a specific level of border security, or "trigger," be established that would allow comprehensive immigration reform to move forward.

Today, four U.S. senators - Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, as well as Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado - are doing another border tour and press conference in Nogales. All four are members of the eight-person group of senators trying to come up with a bipartisan proposal for immigration reform.

In a roundabout way, that immigration-reform debate ended up narrowing the view that Brewer got. The Border Patrol originally invited Brewer on a tour but ended up backing out of the invitation, Brewer spokesman Benson told me Tuesday.

Brewer's visit occurred in a period when the agency had stopped giving ride-alongs and doing tours out of fear of involvement in immigration politics and because of the volume of requests. After I wrote a Feb. 10 column on their policy, they loosened it again.

"We had a situation where the governor still wanted to get down to the border, still wanted to see what the situation was," Benson said. "The feds wouldn't take her."

He acknowledged that there is a diversity of opinion in the borderlands but said ranchers represent an especially important point of view because they're so vulnerable.

He's right that they represent an important view, but this year, especially, it's important that she and the other politicians not limit themselves to a narrow view. The stakes are too high.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter @senyorreporter.

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