Arizona lawmakers who hoped to build miles of fencing along the border with Mexico using millions of dollars in private donations are instead directing the money to buy equipment for a border sheriff's office after the state received just a fraction of the donations needed. The decision Monday by the Legislature's border security advisory committee came without a mention of the original intent of the donations. Republican backers of the 2011 legislation hoped for as much as $50 million for the project, which called for building 15-foot fences at busy border-crossing points and other fences along miles of the state's nearly 200-mile border that had no federal fences at the time. (Border Patrol says 318 of the 389 miles of the border are protected by pedestrian fencing or vehicle barriers.) Instead, the state received about $265,000.
The meeting began with members of the committee ripping the federal government for failing to secure the border and keep drugs and illegal activity away from Arizona. But the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, which covers most of the state, remains the agency's most heavily staffed post in the nation with more than 4,000 agents in 2014. Immigration from Mexico has also slowed considerably this decade, and the number of immigrants apprehended in the Border Patrol's Tucson sector in 2014 dipped to a 22-year low. The Legislature in August asked sheriffs in Cochise, Pima, Yuma, and Santa Cruz counties to present plans for the cash related to border security. Only Cochise County applied, asking for $220,000 to buy thermal imaging equipment, binoculars, GPS equipment, and other gear for border security and ranch patrol teams. (Read more Arizona stories.)