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Senator Kyl tours Yuma border, Wetlands area
Sen. Jon Kyl got a hands-on tour of the Yuma area Wednesday, from an aerial look at the U.S.-Mexico border and a drive through of the partially re- stored Wetlands, to a town hall meeting with the public.
"It's al- ways interesting to come to Yuma because the problems or challenges that we face have solutions and you can see them taking place in the Yuma area," Kyl said.
The senator was here to meet with local officials and touch base with projects of federal interest, such as the Yuma Wetlands and the various security and labor efforts along the border. He met with the U.S. Border Patrol's Yuma Sector Chief Paul Beeson in the morning, then flew in a helicopter with the Border Patrol to San Luis, Ariz.
A tour of both the East and West Wetlands restoration efforts followed, interspersed with meetings throughout the day with officials from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Yuma Proving Ground, the Western Growers Association and the Yuma Desalting Plant.
The day concluded with a town hall-style meeting at Yuma City Hall, where Kyl took questions from area elected representatives and the public.
Kyl said he was encouraged by the work he saw Border Patrol agents doing as far as security was concerned.
"The activity that we have engaged in, from construction activity to more agents on the border, the law enforcement following up through the criminal justice system, detaining people as a deterrent ... has all had a dramatic impact in reducing the amount of apprehensions, which is a good sign that there are fewer attempts to cross," Kyl said.
But he added more needed to be done to ease crossing for legal workers, especially in the agricultural industry. He added that any attempt to revive immigration reform efforts - which he pushed for last year - were probably stalled until after the November election.
"Given the political environment right now, that's very difficult to do. ... I think most people are now in a mode of 'Let's see what we can do to enhance border security, enforce the law, and then we'll take another look at it next year.' "
One of Kyl's success stories in Yuma is the 1,400-acre East Wetlands restoration project. Kyl has backed funding and continued support for the environmental effort to restore the land along the Colorado River and he said that work is coming to bloom.
"The Wetlands is one of my favorites because you can see the progress every time you come to Yuma ... From going into an area that was just a tangled mess ... now seeing them grow, some of the trees (are) taller than I am, then seeing the reports of the species that have come back, the birds and the beavers."
Many of the questions Kyl dealt with pertained to what help the federal government could provide to cities and counties. Kyl said he supported renewing programs that gave partial reimbursement to hospitals and law enforcement in border states to make up for the money spent on illegal immigrants.
However, he said, in most cases communities should find their own funding sources rather than rely on Washington.
"What I would rather see, in terms of Washington money, is have it oriented toward national things," Kyl said, adding that federal agencies often did not know where to focus money on a local level.
He said this was one of the problems with No Child Left Behind legislation, which he generally supported. "One of the reasons you have No Child Left Behind was the federal government was beginning to send so much money to public education."
Asked about the increased requirements for identification when crossing the border, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Kyl said he supported both of those issues.
He said the new border crossing requirements may be cumbersome now but he still believed they were worth doing. As for NAFTA, he said it had been a positive for the United States.
"NAFTA has been a net plus for the United States. In Arizona, 80 percent of what we manufacture is exported. Generally, the freer the trade the better."
Kyl said that, on the whole, his visit to Yuma had been a positive one.
"I like to chide my friends in some other cities - I'll refrain from mentioning which cities those would be - that Yuma is the happening place. The people in Yuma have an attitude of 'We can get it done,' and they do it."
Sarah Reynolds can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6847.