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November 23rd, 2009
Grijalva Reiterates Opposition To Permanent I-19 Checkpoint, Citing Concerns About Economic Impacts

Washington, DC – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today reiterated his opposition to construction of a permanent border checkpoint along the I-19 highway corridor, pointing to a recent government report that found Border Patrol data do not support such a project. The Army Corps of Engineers recently granted more than $1.5 million to a Phoenix contractor to begin construction, although the Arizona Department of Transportation has not yet approved the plan.

The Government Accountability Office found in an August report that immigration officials have not established the necessity or potential effectiveness of the checkpoint. According to the report, the Border Patrol’s performance measures meant to gauge each site’s effectiveness “do not indicate if checkpoints are operating efficiently and effectively.” In addition, the report said, “a lack of management oversight and unclear checkpoint data collection guidance resulted in the overstatement of checkpoint performance results in fiscal year 2007 and 2008 agency performance reports, as well as inconsistent data collection practices at checkpoints.”

Because of those uncertainties, and because the temporary I-19 checkpoint has already interfered greatly with tourism and the local economy, Grijalva said any further development of the supposedly interim site should not move forward.

“This site was set up as a temporary checkpoint in 2007 and has never moved,” Grijalva said. “The impact on the local economy has worsened, and there is no reason to think the checkpoint should be permanently located near a populated area so dependent on tourism. Immigration and customs officials have not made the case that the disruptions this site has already caused have been worth it, let alone any planned future expansions.”

Grijalva said the issue should not be viewed as a choice between security and the economy. “The question is how best to do the job,” he said. Grijalva said he believes enforcement efforts should be focused at the border, pointing out that recent improvements to the Mariposa Port of Entry will have a positive enforcement impact without interrupting everyday economic activity elsewhere.

For instance, Grijalva said, the economic impact on the produce industry in Nogales and Santa Cruz County is indisputable and must be considered before any permanent decisions are made. Grijalva cited a Nov. 18 letter from the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas opposing the checkpoint, which said in part that it would “add yet another logistical challenge for local companies trying to fulfill customer orders and timely delivery expectations, making it difficult to maintain our share in the market.” The group notes in the letter that it “strongly believes that these initiatives need to be carried out with the minimum impact on public safety and on the local economy,” adding that the checkpoint’s currently proposed winter construction schedule would be particularly disruptive to time-sensitive produce transportation.

“Taxpayer money should be spent effectively and should not create disastrous economic impacts for Santa Cruz County’s produce industry and small businesses,” Grijalva said. “Wise use of public funds is not a partisan issue.”

Business and community leaders in Tubac and the surrounding area, where the local economy depends on tourism, have been especially vocal about the impact and have wondered why the checkpoint cannot be located along the actual border. The checkpoint, they say, impacts the economy throughout the year but is especially harmful in peak winter tourism months.

“Effective and efficient border patrol activities should not conflict with other equally important local priorities,” Grijalva said of the I-19 proposal. “Border Patrol officials should work as hard as possible to avoid negatively impacting the very people they protect every day. This checkpoint is an example of how good intentions can go awry, and it should be reconsidered at the highest levels of the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security.”

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