Gary Tuchman | BIO
Program Note: Tune in to AC360° tonight and all this week for special coverage on illegal immigration in this country. We will have reports from the U.S.-Mexico border and Arizona. AC360° tonight at 10pm ET.
There isn't a noticeable difference between the United States and Mexico here. The cacti, animals and plant life are all mirror images of each other. They share the same rugged desert landscape that provides spectacular views when the sun rises and sets each day. It's the same landscape that can prove to be unforgiving for those trying to walk through it during the hottest and coldest times of the year.
A towering steel brown fence is what separates the two neighboring countries in the middle of this vast, dry land, separating the state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. The fence runs seven miles to the east of Nogales, AZ where a smaller fence made of steel rail road ties mixed with small patches of barbed wire fencing continue into the mountainous desert.
This is a portion of the fence that covers two thirds of the Mexico/U.S. border, across California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.
It's what many people call the first line of defense against a criminal element entering the United States. Others call it a giant waste of money.
"The wall took two and a half billion dollars that could have been used technologically. That could have been used for higher security, more personnel along the border, and diverted it." Says U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva, whose district includes a portion of the Arizona border where the fence has been completed.
Grijalva says that the fence has only sent those seeking to get into the country out to areas where they are left to wander a treacherous desert. Many end up dying in the extreme conditions.
"It's a pathetic loss of life and anywhere else it would be a humanitarian crisis."
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada says while the fence has helped lower crime in the city of Nogales, the majority of people moving into the country are heading north to find employment, not to commit crimes. He says we need to be more concerned and focused on those ruthless criminals who will do anything it takes to get across the border. He goes on to say, smugglers moving illegal drugs into the United States are going around the fence into rural areas where they can use the desert as a shield and occasionally use illegal immigrants as mules to move the drugs.
"They continuously manage to get their product across despite all that is being done here and it will continue," says Estrada, who also says that as long as there is a market in the United States for drugs, smugglers will bring them in.
That is exactly why Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says more of the fence needs to be completed. A sign reading, "Travel Caution: Smuggling and Illegal Immigration may be encountered in this area," marks the entrance of what he calls a major drug trafficking route through the desert. What's remarkable about the route is that it's 80 miles north of the border fence, what could be a week-long hike in 110-degree heat.
"This is basically, literally, unfettered access for smugglers and illegals," said Sheriff Babeu showing us an area where an enormous amount of clothes, plastic water bottles and backpacks littered what he called a resting point. It's the exact spot where he says a suspected drug smuggler shot one of his deputies 3 months ago and the reason more money needs to be spent to complete the fence.
"How can we not budget for this here?" said Sheriff Babeu. "This is a huge public safety issue for our state and for our people".
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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