Sunday, May 02, 2010

How Arizona became center of immigration debate

The frustration had been building for years in Arizona with every drug-related kidnapping, every home invasion, every "safe house" discovered crammed with illegal immigrants from Mexico. The tensions finally spilled over this month with passage of the nation's toughest law against illegal immigration, a measure that has put Arizona at the center of the heated debate over how to deal with the millions of people who sneak into the U.S. every year. Arizona is the biggest gateway into the U.S. for illegal immigrants. The state is home to an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants - a population larger than that of entire cities such as Cleveland, St. Louis and New Orleans. Over the past three years, Border Patrol agents have made 990,000 arrests of immigrants crossing the border illegally in Arizona, or an average of 900 a day. The figures represent 45 percent of all arrests of illegal immigrants along U.S. borders. Authorities routinely come across safe houses and vehicles jammed with immigrants across the vast Arizona desert. Last week, 67 illegal immigrants were found crammed inside a U-Haul truck - a fairly typical scenario in the state. The volume of drugs coming through the Arizona border is also eye-popping. Federal agents seized 1.2 million pounds of marijuana last year in Arizona. That amounts to an average of 1.5 tons per day. Pot busts have become so common that until recently federal prosecutors in Arizona generally declined to press charges against marijuana smugglers caught with less than 500 pounds...more

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