April 25th, 2010
10:14 PM ET

The real threat to Arizona

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/04/21/arizona.immigration.bill/smlvid.fence.gi.jpg width=300 height=169]

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

So much has been discussed over the past week about whether or not the illegal immigration law is right or wrong. One thing that is not up for debate: the bill signed on Friday by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is the toughest in our country dealing with illegal immigration.

I'm not going to say whether I agree or disagree with the bill, but I wanted to share some of my own experiences in Arizona as a journalist covering so many of the issues in the state.

I worked in Arizona for two years starting in 2002. I helped run an investigative unit for the CBS affiliate in Phoenix and we had a great group of people working together. Four of us in the unit grew up on or close to the border, so we all shared our love of Mexico and have a very strong understanding of many of the problems the criminal activity poses on the United States.

I spent many of my weekends going across the border covering illegal immigration, the sex and drug trade, killers hiding in Mexico and human smuggling. I also spent equal amounts of time covering the very same
issues on the Arizona side of the border.

Southern Arizona is one of my favorite areas of the country. The desert is beautiful; surrounded by mountains and saguaro cactus. It provides some of the best scenery and fantastic evening skies. It can also prove to be very dangerous. I covered a story where human smugglers were in a shoot out on Interstate 10 where innocent bystanders were caught in the cross fire. The smugglers were fighting over a load of human cargo.

Ranchers in the area are fully aware of the problems that much of the illegal human and drug smuggling trade causes. Many of the trails the smugglers use cross their property lines. I've been out in the desert and happened across illegal immigrants many times. Luckily for us, they were only immigrants who had been left to wander the desert by their smugglers. They were thirsty, hungry and confused. They'd been walking for days trying to get to civilization.

Some ranchers haven't been so lucky. Robert Krentz was found dead in March after he radioed his brother saying he was going to render aid to an illegal immigrant on his property. Police suspect that rather than an illegal immigrant, he came across human or drug smugglers - hardened criminals who have very little or no value for human life.

I've also reported stories on the police in local towns near the border who don't have the money to detain many of the criminals they encounter. Local cops have released many drug smugglers in past years due to a 500-pound threshold for marijuana cases stipulated by the United States Attorney's office under the Bush Administration. Local municipalities were understaffed and didn't have the room to house or prosecute the criminals who fit the criteria, so they were deported without prosecution, only to return to the United States to smuggle more drugs.

Under the Obama administration, more funds to the U.S. Attorney's office have allowed for more prosecutions and an elimination of the 500-pound threshold.

Just two hours north of the border in Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has made a name for himself because of his tough stance on illegal immigration. He's cracked down on illegal immigration which has made him popular with many Arizona voters. Because of allegations that his office was racially profiling Latinos, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into his methods and the government removed his deputies' ability to enforce immigration law on the streets.

The county also has a problem with stash houses, where illegal immigrants are stuffed into a home where human smugglers hold them until they can be shipped to other parts of the country. Often they are left without food or water.

It's been my experience that there are some horrible people at the root of all this crime: human and drug smugglers who are using illegal immigrants for their own personal gain.

State officials have decided to come down hard on the immigrants looking for work. I can only hope the state and our country will do more to punish the people who bring them through Arizona. In my eyes, those people are the real criminals. They don't think twice about killing anyone in their way and pose the biggest threat to the United States.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Immigration • Ismael Estrada
soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. Cynthia Runkel

    The real threats to Arizona are the illegal immigrants who do not pay taxes and use the emergency room for free rather than paying the doctors and hospital. This is why the bill was signed. No one knows better than the residents of Arizona. 70% of Arizonians agree with this bill. Many of our tax dollars are going to people who do not come into our country the legal way. I have to carry my passport and visa when I go to Mexico or another country. I am not opposed to having someone check my identiry. The illegals and family members are opposing this bill because they do not have visas or passports.

    April 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  2. amy

    I really do not care either way about immigration. But what I have an issue with is the hypocrisy both Mexico and the United States show on this issue. Mexico will not assist in closing the border due to the amount of money that is sent back to their country and the United States says it is "illegal" to enter, but once here you can own a house, get a job and even join our military (check out how many illegal immigrants have died for a country that is not theirs) Some counties will even provide transportation to the fields where the labor is desperately needed. Hypocrisy and denial on the part of both countries is what is so frustrating.

    April 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  3. Sue

    This is way over due to reenforce our security, Breaking the law should not be permitted in any case, if we keep excuse the law breaker it wil bring more mess in result. The Governor did what is nesseccery for the state and all other state should do the same.

    April 25, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  4. SebbyR

    Great article... I'm latino and also an immigrant and I have to say that I support what Arizona is doing!!! My parents came to this country in 1982, LEGALLY!!!.. If an issue like this was going on back then, I may not be here today!!!

    Check this out! How is THIS for hypocritical:

    In September 2007, Mexican President Calder?n harshly criticized the United States government for the crackdown on illegal immigrants, saying it has led to the persecution of immigrant workers without visas. ?I have said that Mexico does not stop at its border, that wherever there is a Mexican, there is Mexico,? he said.

    In October 2008, Mexico tightened its immigration rules and agreed to deport Cubans using the country as an entry point to the US. It also criticized U.S. policy that generally allows Cubans who reach U.S. territory to stay. Cuban Foreign Minister said the Cuban-Mexican agreement would lead to "the immense majority of Cubans being repatriated."

    April 25, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Harriet

    Anderson, this is very real. I live in southwestern Arizona and I did experience some of what you wrote when I lived in Sonoita, AZ. It is sad, sad indeed that the criminals are not being prosecuted. I agree 100% that the criminals are the people that bring the illegals across the boarder. The luck of regard for human life itself is outrightly evil. Thanks for sharing. I worry about the impact of the law that the governer has passed. What do you think the law will accomplish in light of what you shared above?

    April 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  6. Phil

    If you read the bill itself rather than listening to what Obama or the Democrats want you to hear, you will see that there must be probable cause for the police to verify someone's immigration status, and even if arrested for trumped charges, the person is still transferred to a federal immigration site or agent. This bill does raise attentions to the problems Arizona is fighting...but they are the ones Mr. Cooper cites, and not the horrible human rights violations the Democrats want you to believe.

    April 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  7. Darlene

    Thank you for the excellent article! It provides much needed insight into what is REALLY happening. It is soul-wrenching to hear of how these people are being herded like animals for profit. It is just another reminder of the tragedy that American Indian and African American slaves were subjected to. What will it take to wake this nation up? OR...better yet, is it possible to wake up a nation of greedy and heartless thugs? There has to be a better way!

    April 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  8. obaid

    Right, capture the smugglers who traffic humans and drugs. Well written article.

    April 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  9. Wishing for rain

    Excellent article. Reporting not interpreting. We in Arizona are tired of the stupidity. We don't understand why others don't feel the way we do. Guess you could say the media does a poor job of reporting the terror we feel at criminal coming into our yards and keeping us from feeling safe. No, I'm not talking about the migrants. They want to work and feed their families. Its the drug and human traffickers, murderers and others who are the real problem. They victimize the immigrants as well as us.

    April 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  10. PhoenixGuy

    Indeed, this is the first and only article I've read that speaks from an informed opinion. The illegal problem in AZ has to be addressed now! The law allows simply showing your driver's license as proof of legal status. As one was has been on the wrong end of a desperate illegal's knife blade at my throat, I wholeheartedly support this law. Come spend some time in AZ before you judge.

    April 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  11. Bitsy

    The border war is not about illegal aliens or profiling. It is about citizens protecting their property and lives. Cut fences, stray cattle, ruined grazing land. I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere, but the border is being guarded by armed civilian residents. Don't they have the right to protect their own lives and property?
    Bits Cottonwood, AZ

    April 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  12. eneida

    I guess I won't be able to visit Arizona because I'm Hispanic and I speak with an accent, although I'm a citizen, the police might harass me because of my accent or because I 'm Hispanic. The law is ridiculous!. You can't stop someone in the street just because they are Hispanic, the police have to have a probable cause to stop somebody before they make an arrest. Live and let live!

    April 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  13. Tharnwell Pool


    I am not sure, but if I travel to any country in the world, I know they will ask me to prove who I am. If I drive a car, I am required to prove who I am. If I try to get a job , I am required to prove who I am. So what is the big deal. Jan Brewer is just giving the police the authornity to do just that, check who you are. Immigration law should do the rest.

    April 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  14. Rick31

    I believe drug and humann trafficer. Are the real criminals but what about the people who help immigrants come to America just to help them at a chance for a better life, or reunite with families

    April 25, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  15. glori

    If our country was smart enough to protect ourselves by ending our porous borders, there would be no business for smugglers! So that problem would be solved, along with the many others that illegal immigrants bring into the USA. They are bankrupting us, spread disease, the list is endless!

    April 25, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  16. Tyrone

    What people in most of the country just don't understand is that 1 out of every 11 people in Arizona is an illegal alien. If this trend were countrywide, that would be like the entire populations of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania combined being composed of illegal aliens. It's untenable politically, socially and economically.

    April 25, 2010 at 11:00 am |

    I have no problem with people being here legally, but if they are here illegally then I draw the line. How can we protect our country if we do not check to see if someone is here legal or not. America needs to wake up. We need to kick out all that are here illegally. That way everything is so mess up here. If I go to the hospital I have to pay so much, but if I am here illegally I would pay nothing. How is that right?

    April 25, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  18. FWB

    We spend a lot of time in Yuma and there is defiately a BIG Problem with Illegals, and this law was appropriate in my opinion, I think the bleeding hearts should back off and let Brewer and Arpaio do their job, they understand the problems better than anyone else.

    April 25, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  19. Ida knoll

    I live in San Diego and we obviously have the same issues. The real issue that causes the problem is never addressed. It would be too difficult to take on the Mexican cartel and Government. It's always the innocent people who simply want an easier life who lose. It's just sad.

    April 25, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  20. ScottD

    I am a resident of Arizona and this is the only article I read so far that provides context and substance to the current debate. There are other journalists who write about the recent legislation with arrogance and ignorance yet don't bother to get up from their chair in DC, NY or wherever they are, to do their research rather than their rush to excoriate Arizonans. This article is a nice glimpse of tribulations Arizonans face in Arizona on a daily basis.

    April 25, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  21. Luciana Lambert

    After reading this article, I understand Arizona has a big issue because of the Mexican border. Unfortunatelly, if put in perspective, this bill is a retrocess and seems to enhance discrimination.

    April 25, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  22. Steve

    All illegal immigrants have to pass through the border states, exposing them to transient crime, but how many such immigrants actuakky find work in those very same states? Illegal jobs that started the flow in the first place?
    Like with the drug traffic, the illegal labor supplies to a domestic demand. Laws such as the one passed in AZ are myopic at best and racist at worst. The equation is that we have a need for the labor. What system satisfies that without illegals?

    April 25, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  23. Ginette

    national security. I do not agree with the law, however what are they supposed to do? The US helps everyone else, why not Mexico?

    April 25, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  24. Ginette

    I am a latino woman and I am glad that you shared this story and I can see how the State would be fed up with all the crime. What I don't understand is what is wrong with the Mexican government. Why can they not control the crime in their own country and why doesn't the US help them to do that. I mean to me, its like local threats are not as important as

    April 25, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  25. Luis Teixeira

    The immigration exist and been exist since the begining of the world, is a human right an nobody can taked from you. Arizona make this issues out and violate all human rights....if you want to protect your borders go a heat, but looking for immigrants inside the country, is inhuaman, create violence, hate and racism...in this case agains immigrants, and special agains hispanics...the radicals are the first people that looking for, thehispanics in Arizona are in peril now....wehave to do something now is a human right...

    April 25, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  26. marshall KY

    A sad day in arizona the smoke screen with immagration but what about the Birtha Bill which does not allow people to vote for Obama if he doesn't show his birth cert. His name want be placed on the ballots. WOW Arizona to harm people by affecting other races

    April 25, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  27. rob

    Very good article. Thanks for your insight

    April 25, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  28. Pesky

    I agree totally. Something should be done immediately.

    But, how does it help to demand a drug smuggler or pimp to produce their papers to prove they are an American citizen?

    Or how does it feel to an American citizen to be asked to prove they are American or having to carry special identification for proof when they have done nothing wrong?

    This law is about a lot more than illegal alien problems in Arizona. This is the very core of our American freedom. I am really surprised that especially the Tea Party has not picked up on this. It shows their true colors, meaning and purpose.

    April 25, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  29. eva kitchen

    My son lives close to the border in az. He has people running through his property almost every night. I fear for him and my 4 year old granddaughter. He is having trouble selling because everyone sees him patch the fence and by the next morning more holes to patch.

    April 25, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  30. Kathlee Gulbransen

    I am so glad to hear/read someone talk about those who traffic in humans, the inhumanity it involves.
    You have pointed out some of the real problems with illegal border crossings.
    I am a fan of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and really don't understand why the Feds have chosen to work against his efforts instead of work with him, to ensure everyone's' rights are respected.
    Finally, I agree and would love to see more done with those human traffickers.
    Thank you for your insights.

    April 25, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  31. Pat Nesberg

    Thank you for your insight. It's helpful to have more info to understand the situation with.

    April 25, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  32. Rachel Rountree

    very good detailed article written simply and offered fact, I now understand the problem a little better and enough to explain to others ....Thank You

    April 25, 2010 at 7:46 am |