A senator who wants to create an armed volunteer force that can stop crimes along the Arizona-Mexico border repeated claims Tuesday that terrorist organizations based in the Middle East have formed alliances with drug cartels to the south.
“We are being invaded by criminals who have formed alliances with mid-eastern terrorists who use violence in the most evil of ways to intimidate, control and protect their drug-human smuggling multi-billion dollar business,” said Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican from Snowflake.
In an earlier committee hearing, Allen specifically mentioned Hezbollah. She also referred to reports that the group is training Mexican drug cartels.
Allen isn’t the only one who is making claims about the presence of Hezbollah in Latin America.
But the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact, which looked into the claim, said while there’s some evidence that the group’s sympathizers and fundraisers are working in the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and perhaps it even has recruiters and trainers in Venezuela, there’s little evidence that the Hezbollah is “working” in Mexico.
PolitiFact also said there’s even less public support for the idea that the group’s presence poses a “very significant threat” to the U.S, adding the U.S. State Department says there are no known operational cells of al-Qaida or Hezbollah in the hemisphere.
To help combat any threat from the south, Allen is proposing to establish an “Arizona Special Missions Unit” that can respond to disasters but also be readily deployed to help secure the southern border, and aid local law enforcement in combating international crime.
The unit, which would get $1.4 million each year, would be under the control of the governor. It will be separate from the Arizona National Guard.
As envisioned, the unit would be authorized to pursue criminals, detain and arrest and also seize property.
The proposal narrowly passed, 7-6, after a spirited debate in the Appropriations Committee this afternoon.
All the Democrats on the committee, as well as two Republicans, balked at the measure.
The bill, SB1083, was also tweaked during the hearing.
The original version created a new “Arizona State Guard.”
The name change — from Arizona State Guard to Arizona Special Missions Unit — doesn’t alter the group’s mission.
But the amended bill is more stringent about recruitment.
Like the previous measure, recruits must be citizens or legal residents who have declared their intention to become citizens.
Also, individuals who have been dishonorably discharged from any military force in the U.S. are barred.
But there are additional requirements.
Volunteers must also submit fingerprints for a state and federal criminal records check.
They’re also subject to psychological screening and polygraph testing to ensure they’re fit for the job.
The debate during the hearing focused on the group’s operational capability, logistics, and weapons training.
Allen, the bill’s sponsor, expressed assurances that the new force won’t be sent out unless it’s ready.
But critics, including Sen. Paula Aboud, pressed the issue of state liability for the volunteers’ conduct.
Others, like Sen. Rich Crandall, a Republican from Mesa, looked at the logistics and remained skeptical about how it would work.
“If you were to truly offer live-fire weapons training, you would burn through the $1.4 million in no time at all and have no budget for anything else,” Crandall said.