Trap and Release

PUBLISHED: November 4, 2011

PHOENIX - When uninvited raccoons damage the lawn behind my house, I trap them, drive about five miles, and release them into the forest. Recently a guy saw me and asked that I stop. "We have our own raccoon problems," he explained, adding that he also traps the critters. "So where do you take them?" I asked. He described a spot that turned out to be the woods behind my house.

Rather than solve the raccoon problem, my neighbors and I have been shuttling raccoons - possibly the very same raccoons - back and forth across town lines.

This came to mind during my trip here. What do you think Arizona officials are doing with many of the illegal immigrants they're rounding up these days? They're busing them to California. And what do you suppose California is doing with some of its illegals? That's right. California is busing them to Arizona.

Through "lateral repatriations," as the interstate busing system is called, Arizona now ships about 50,000 people a year to California and Texas for deportation. The thinking - as with the raccoons in my yard - is that by taking the pesky critters to unfamiliar territory before releasing them, they're less likely to find their way back.

This is just one wrinkle in the immigration story that continues to grow, following last year's passage of Arizona's controversial immigration law known as SB 1070. Opposition to the measure has already cost the state roughly $250 million in lost convention business. Gov. Jan Brewer, the bill's champion, estimates Arizona spends $1.6 billion annually to combat undocumented immigrants.

Brewer, who is now on the talk circuit plugging her book about the issue, says Arizona is the "gateway" for illegal immigration. She says the U.S. has tightened the borders in California and Texas, leaving her state vulnerable.

But beyond selling books, there's little about the muddled immigration situation that makes anyone happy. Arizona business groups, fearing more boycotts, mounted a successful campaign last spring to defeat several bills in the state legislature that were even tougher than SB 1070. The large Latino population, which voted heavily for President Obama in 2008, is reportedly frustrated, as the number of deportations nationally has climbed to the highest level in over 50 years.

Over $3.5 million has been raised privately to defend SB 1070; however, according to reporting by the Cronkite News Service, 90 percent of the money has come from outside Arizona. People here are fed up with the matter.

Republican presidential candidates don't know what to do with the issue. Herman Cain suggested an electrified fence, and then said he was joking. Rick Perry said those opposing in-state tuition for children of immigrants were heartless, then apologized for the remark. Ron Paul said he's against border fences because they'll be used "to keep us in."

The head of Homeland Security and former Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano, inspected the border last week - on horseback. How's that for a photo-op? "Nothing beats coming out and seeing for yourself and…getting on a horse and getting out and seeing some of the terrain, " she told the Arizona Republic.

Napolitano praised the lateral repatriation scheme. But critics say moving immigrants hundreds of miles away before releasing them puts them in danger and, in some cases, separates families. Homeland Security is investigating the charges.

Meanwhile, sitting on the "Today" show's sofa in New York, Gov. Brewer stressed that no one is stopped in Arizona unless authorities have "reasonable suspicion" that they're illegal. However, when I visited the border separating Arizona from California the other day, Border Patrol agents were stopping all cars leaving Arizona. Those who appeared suspicious were asked if they are U.S. citizens, as agents with dogs examined their cars.

The immigration issue has grown into a virtually unsolvable problem. Arizona and neighboring states need a guest worker program, a reasonable path to citizenship for those without documentation plus a compassionate program for their children.

Much of what's happening here, such as transporting undocumented immigrants hundreds of miles away in the hope that they'll find it harder to return, may make a good photo-op and provide material for a book, but it really underscores the desperation of everyone involved. I imagine my raccoons would agree.

(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.

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