Katie Pavlich
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Programming note: Senator Rubio will be on The Ed Morrissey Show today at 4 p.m. EST.

Today a bipartisan group of eight Senators, including Republicans Marco Rubio, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Democrats Bob Menendez (under investigation for sleeping with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic), Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Michael Bennet will introduce a plan for illegal immigration reform. Here are the basics: 

1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;

2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;

3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,

4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.

The key here is border enforcement and whether that will actually happen. When Reagan made the decision to grant amnesty to three million illegal immigrants in 1986, he did it under the promise of strict border enforcement and security.

It was sold as a crackdown: There would be tighter security at the Mexican border, and employers would face strict penalties for hiring undocumented workers.

He was duped. Look at Arizona, a state that passed SB 1070 citing an unsecure border and the need for more federal enforcement. So, the question becomes will border enforcement in this legislation actually happen? Given the security history of the Southwest border with Mexico, it's not likely and despite Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano saying the border is "more secure than ever," it isn't. On top of the illegal immigration problem, drug cartels are operating at the highest rates ever in parts of Arizona and Texas. The good news is, these Senators seem interested in hearing from people who actually live near the border, rather than simply looking at polling data and hearing from "experts" located in Washington D.C. on how to fix the border security problem.

We recognize that Americans living along the Southwest border are key to recognizing and understanding when the border is truly secure. Our legislation will create a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general, and community leaders living along the Southwest border to monitor the progress of securing our border and to make a recommendation regarding when the bill's security measures outlined in the legislation are completed.

A little over a year ago, I went on a ride along with the Pinal County Sheriff's Department to see for myself exactly what local communities and law enforcement officials are dealing with. Also, being from Arizona I was and still am very familiar with these issues.

After following Thomas from Florence to Casa Grande, I parked at the Border Patrol station there, hopped in his "office" and we were off. We started down Interstate 8, which runs east to Interstate 10 and west all the way to California, making it the perfect freeway for drug runners to get their dope into Phoenix. I-8 is about 30 minutes south of Phoenix by way of I-10. The cities near this intersection, which used to be predominantly ranching and farming communities, are Casa Grande, Arizona City, Maricopa, Hidden Valley, Eloy and Stanfield. Although some farms still exist, this area is inundated with cartel activity. The bad guys, members of the Sinaloa cartel, live in these communities, run stash houses and have turned access roads, literally right next to farms that have been in operation for decades, into major smuggling routes. Thomas called this the “city problem.”

Nearby is the infamous Vekol Valley, the largest hotbed of drug and human smuggling in the United States and where a Pinal County Deputy was shot in April 2010. Vekol is surrounded by nasty mountain ranges on both sides. There is wide-open desert starting from mile marker 160 on I-8 and stretching all the way to Mexico. Because of the terrain, Vekol acts as a funnel. As we drove into the area, I could feel that it just wasn’t a safe place to be.

Cartels also take advantage of the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation on the west side of Vekol Valley. They use it as an entry point, marry into Indian families so they can live on the reservation and, if a village is small enough, cartel members will simply walk in and take property by lethal force.

While we were driving near Vekol, Thomas explained the “terrain” problem to me after pulling off the side of the road to show me the “Travel Caution: Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered in This Area" sign provided by Homeland Security. (Remember, according to Janet Napolitano, the border is secure.) He said the cartels have a vast intelligence network. Men known as “spotters” sit up on the top of hills and mountains with cell phones and radios, calling drug running crews in the U.S. and Mexico about where Sheriff vehicles are located and where Border Patrol is cruising. Usually, as soon as Thomas shows up on patrol, the cartels are watching and know exactly where he is. For the spotters, failing to identify where U.S. authorities are located can result in a beating or even death. If a spotter calls into the boss in Mexico or down the road, says that they are clear to come through with a load, but then the authorities show up and seize the load, that spotter pays the price for the loss.

But these cartels aren’t just targeting Border Patrol. U.S. citizens travelling along I-8 who stop for a restroom break often find themselves carjacked right off the road. The area can’t be used for camping, hiking or hunting as it used to be because the area is dangerous and drug and human smugglers are carrying high-powered weapons like AK-47s.

“If you see too much you may get killed out here because they [cartel members] don’t want witnesses,” Thomas said.

We'll hear more about this legislation today at 2:30 pm EST.

 

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Katie Pavlich

Katie Pavlich is the News Editor at Townhall.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiepavlich. She is also the author of Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and the Shameless Cover-Up.

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Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography