As Education and Health Care Falter, Arizona Builds a $50 Million Fence

Arizona's cash-strapped Tea Party-led legislature is not launching a campaign for the state's failing schools today-despite cutting $450 million in the education budget.

Arizona's cash-strapped Tea Party-led legislature is not launching a campaign for the state's failing schools today-despite cutting $450 million in the education budget.

Nor is Arizona's Tea Party-led legislature launching a campaign for the state's failing health care system, despite devastating cuts in access to the state's poorest citizens.

But Arizona's Tea Party-led legislature is launching a $50 million online fundraising campaign today to a build an additional border wall between Arizona and Mexico. Does the price tag seem low? Borrowing a page from 19th convict leasing policies, the state's new border law requires that prisoners build the illusory wall to nowhere.

And to kick off the campaign, Arizona's extremist legislators are throwing a party tonight with disgraced Senate President Russell Pearce, the first senate president in US history to be recalled, as its headline speaker.

"What a media stunt," former Arizona governor and diplomat Raul Castro told me last week. Living less than 100 yards from the US-Mexico border, the former ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia and Argentina, called out Gov. Jan Brewer for failing to work under federal guidelines on immigration issues. Castro, who has served as an advisor over the past several decades on border and Latin American issues to virtually every Arizona governor, including former Arizona governor and Department of Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano, began his diplomatic career working in the US consulate on the border.

Gov. Jan Brewer is the only governor to never consult with Castro, who was the first and only Mexican American ever elected as Arizona's governor in 1974. Then again, Brewer's staff didn't even bother to inform her about DHS chief Napolitano's visit and policy update on the Arizona border last week.

In fact, Napolitano issued an update on the Obama administration's border security policy, which has included a record number of deportations and the deployment of 21,000 Border Patrol agents and unmanned aerial drones along the US-Mexico border.

In an extensive review of crime data from 1,600 local and federal law enforcement agencies along the US-Mexico border by a team of USA Today reporters, law enforcement experts echoed Castro's sentiments. Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor told USA Today reporters: "Everything looks really good, which is why it's so distressing and frustrating to read about these reports about crime going up everywhere along the border, when I know for a fact that the numbers don't support those allegations." According to the USA Today analysis, "rates of violent crime along the U.S.-Mexico border have been falling for years -- even before the U.S. security buildup that has included thousands of law enforcement officers and expansion of a massive fence along the border." The USA Today report concluded:

*The murder rate for cities within 50 miles of the border was lower in nearly every year from 1998 to 2009, compared with the respective state average. For example, California had its lowest murder rate during that time period in 2009, when 5.3 people were murdered per 100,000 residents. In cities within 50 miles of the border, the highest murder rate over that time period occurred in 2003, when 4.6 people were murdered per 100,000 residents.

*The robbery rate for cities within 50 miles of the border was lower each year compared with the state average. In Texas over that time span, the robbery rate ranged from 145 to 173 per 100,000 people in the state, while the robbery rate throughout Texas' border region never rose above 100 per 100,000.

*Kidnapping cases investigated by the FBI along the border are on the decline. The bureau's Southwestern offices identified 62 cartel-related kidnapping cases on U.S. soil that involved cartels or illegal immigrants in 2009. That fell to 25 in 2010 and 10 so far in 2011.

Another extensive investigation released by the New York Times earlier this month found that "extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle." In an extraordinary examination of immigrant trends from Mexico, the Times found "the decline in illegal immigration, from a country responsible for roughly 6 of every 10 illegal immigrants in the United States, is stark." Citing research that demonstrates that immigration from Mexico had fallen to its lowest levels since the 1960s, Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton told the Times: "No one wants to hear it, but the flow has already stopped," Mr. Massey said, referring to illegal traffic. "For the first time in 60 years, the net traffic has gone to zero and is probably a little bit negative."

But don't tell Arizona legislators like bill author Steve Smith. You might disrupt his $50 a plate border wall dinner with Pearce tonight.

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