Arizona Democrat Weighs In On Border Security

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Robert Siegel talks to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who represents the Tucson area, about immigration and security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Security on the U.S./Mexico border has been a top concern for Representative Gabrielle Giffords. She is a Democrat who represents Arizona's 8th congressional district. Her district includes the Tucson area and it also runs for 114 miles along the border. She joins us from Capitol Hill. Welcome back to the program.

Representative GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (Democrat, Arizona): Good afternoon.

SIEGEL: And, first, your reaction to President Calderon's address to Congress today, did he say enough to meet your concerns about protecting citizens along the border?

Rep. GIFFORDS: Certainly the pomp and circumstance of a joint session of Congress is always a spectacle. And having President Calderon here was at this time very important. But for me, it's memorable because I had in the gallery a guest who is a rancher from my district. And he is truly an amazing representative for the ranching community. One, of course, who was tragically murdered on March 27th.

SIEGEL: This is Mr. Krantz, one of your constituents who was actually killed on his own ranch?

Rep. GIFFORDS: That's correct. Rob Krantz was murdered by suspected drug smugglers. And after attending his memorial service, hearing the outpouring of grief and frustration, I just realized that even though I work extraordinarily hard to make the connection between the federal government and the ranchers in Cochise County, it's important to have those ranchers here in Washington as well. And for the president to look into the human face of the border crisis.

SIEGEL: Now, President Calderon and many other Mexicans point out that the guns that are used by Mexican drug dealers often have come across the border from the United States. And one of the things that he urged the U.S. to do today in his speech was to reimpose the assault weapon ban. What do you think of that?

Rep. GIFFORDS: Frankly, that's not very likely to happen here in Washington right now. We have been working towards a comprehensive immigration reform bill that also will not likely happen before the November election. Until we can secure the border, we're not likely to see any movement on these other pieces of legislation that are part of the problem.

SIEGEL: But Representative Giffords, would restoring the assault weapons ban not just be unlikely, but in your view, unwelcome?

Rep. GIFFORDS: In my district and in my state, we have a very strong gun culture. I own a gun, members of my family own guns. And it's just not likely to happen. I'm not disagreeing that assault weapons are incredibly problematic, specifically for the law enforcement community and specific cities across the country.

But the reality is that I am urging the federal government to put national troops on the border. I'm urging the federal government to stand up forward operating bases, put more boots on the ground. And unless the federal government steps up and actually secures the border, we're really not going to have a conversation about any of these other peripheral issues.

SIEGEL: But you urged President Obama to do just that a couple of days after the death of Mr. Krantz in your district, on his ranch. He hasn't sent the National Guard in. Are you disappointed?

Rep. GIFFORDS: I'm very angry. I'm very frustrated and the people of Arizona are frustrated. I serve on the Armed Services Committee and last night we finished marking up the National Defense Authorization Act, about $670 billion that go towards national security and our national defense. And I think about all of those hundreds of billions of dollars that are being spent abroad. Yet if you drive out to Cochise County you can drive for miles and miles and not see one border patrol agent.

And you would talk to the ranchers that have their property destroyed on a regular basis, that have traffickers both human and drugs coming across, increased violence. National security is border security. And the federal government needs to step up.

SIEGEL: But if the federal government has not stepped up, you've also been critical of the Arizona government for having passed the very controversial immigration bill that Arizona Governor Brewer approved of and signed. It seems as though you can see that Washington isn't doing the job, but when your own state tries to do the job, you're against that as well.

Rep. GIFFORDS: Well, SB-1070, the next immigration law that was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Brewer is directly a reaction to crimes like the Krantz murder. However, SB-1070 does absolutely nothing to secure the border. It pulls together some state laws and some local law enforcement that asks for what unfortunately will probably result in U.S. citizens being required to show proof of citizenship, but really does not take the necessary steps that we need to take in order to secure the border.

That being said, I get it, I understand the frustration because these are my constituents. Arizonans are incredibly angry that we live in the most porous section of the border in the country. And until we can secure the border, it's very hard to have a conversation about anything else.

SIEGEL: Well, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

Rep. GIFFORDS: Thank you for having me.

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