“The violence level at the border is incredibly high, and we haven’t kept up with that,” McCain said a news conference after joining four GOP congressmen on a two-day border tour.
McCain said he was disappointed by last week’s announcement that National Guard troops will leave the border by June. What the group saw during the tour shows that more troops are needed, he said.
U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake, David Schweikert, Paul Gosar and Ben Quayle of Arizona, who accompanied McCain, agreed that security has marginally improved since last year but that more needs to be done. Their tour of Douglas, Nogales and Yuma included a meeting with the widow and brother of Robert Krentz, a rancher slain last year near the border.
McCain said he and Sen. Jon Kyl will reintroduce their 10-point border security plan, which calls for adding troops, expanding a program that criminally charges those who cross the border illegally and putting a fence along all of Arizona’s border with Mexico.
“After the border is secure and we can assure our citizens of that, we will be fully prepared to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform,” McCain said.
Flake, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, said virtually everyone who crosses the border today is linked to rings smuggling people and drugs.
“It used to be that those tied to human smuggling or drug smuggling were the exception to the rule,” Flake said. “Now it is the rule.”
Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, a community-organizing network based in Tucson, said Flake’s comment is unfounded and that such rhetoric induces unnecessary fear about safety along the border.
“The majority of the people [crossing the border illegally] are folks that are coming here looking to bring some economic stability to themselves and their families’ lives,” Allen said in a telephone interview.