WASHINGTON — Hidden cameras have captured a startling stream of illegal immigrants and drug runners traveling freely from Mexico into the United States through federal forest and game preserves in southern Arizona.
The stealth footage is featured in a new video, titled “Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns, and 850 Illegal Aliens,” that the Center for Immigration Studies released Thursday.
Southern Arizona “has become almost a playground for smugglers,” said Janice Kephart, the center’s national security policy director. “Federal lands should be the starting point — not the last point — for border security.”
The video, which runs nearly 10 minutes, features dramatic footage of lines of individuals moving resolutely northward in such areas as the Coronado National Forest and the Casa Grande Sector, just miles north of the Arizona-Mexico border.
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Collected from hidden cameras in February and March, the footage — edited for the shorter feature — documents at least 850 illegal immigrants and nine drug couriers. It also reveals ongoing damage to the protected wilderness areas through trash and other destruction.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said that U.S. policies have resulted in the state’s being ''under attack'' from Mexican drug and immigrant-smuggling cartels. Those at the film's premiere concurred with that assessment.
These people do not come here “to pick tomatoes,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that oversees national parks, forests and public lands. “These are drug smugglers, human traffickers, and terrorists.”
Bishop is pushing legislation that will permit the border patrol and Homeland Security to police the borders in national parks and forests, which is prohibited now.
The law change is “a common-sense, no-brainer for us,” said Bishop, who decried the fact that the House and the Senate have passed language to enact the change — but in different pieces of legislation in which neither side can find a compromise.
“First things first,” Bishop said. “You are never going to be able to move forward for any other type of immigration” reform without securing the border and halting the illegal flow.
The video released Thursday, the second in a series the Center for Immigration Studies has produced, includes a 2004 federal government PowerPoint presentation showing the near-complete devastation of a borderland national park because of illegal immigrant activity.
It also shows a 2001 federal report that details the locations of the illegal trails that immigrants caught on the hidden cameras use — underscoring the federal government’s apparent inaction to combat the illegal flow on pathways still used for criminal purposes.
Obtaining public information and federal documents was a near Quixotic task, Kephart said. It took years to get some of the information, she said, adding that she eventually gave up and went to the border to do the reporting.
The film was released the same day that Florida, Texas, and seven other states filed a brief supporting Arizona's immigration law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants after the U.S. government sued to block its enforcement.
The states’ filing in a federal court in Phoenix insisted that Arizona's statute does not establish an immigration policy that would interfere with federal law.
“The federal government seeks to negate this pre-existing power of the states to verify a person's immigration status and similarly seeks to reject the assistance that the states can lawfully provide to the federal government,” the states wrote.
The United States sued Arizona on July 6, arguing that immigration is a matter only for federal policy, under the Constitution. The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring Arizona from enforcing the law, which is set to take effect on July 29.
The Arizona law makes it a state crime to be in the United States illegally. It also requires local police officers who come into contact with someone for law enforcement reasons to check that individual's immigration status if they suspect he lacks proper documentation. Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia joined in supporting Arizona.
In Bishop’s home state of Utah, where state legislators are drafting a bill patterned after the Arizona law, a leaked list of 1,300 Utah residents described as illegal immigrants has sown fear among Hispanics and prompted an investigation into its origins and dissemination.
The center’s first video on the immigration/smuggling issue, entitled “Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border: Coyotes, Bears, and Trails,” portrays the damage that illegal immigrants and drug smugglers inflict upon wildlife and natural resources as they traverse federally protected lands.
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