Homeland Security to Help Arizona Combat Human Smuggling

PHOENIX -- Federal authorities have promised to help Arizona in its fight against human trafficking and other problems caused by the influx of undocumented immigrants.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent Gov. Janet Napolitano a letter Monday outlining a plan to crack down on human smuggling, ease overcrowding in Arizona prisons and increase immigration training given to Highway Patrol officers.

Last week, Napolitano declared an emergency in four border counties because of problems related to illegal immigration and moved to provide local governments in those counties with up to $1.5 million in state funding.

Napolitano's order said failure by the federal government to secure the border allowed a flood of illegal immigration that threatened public health and safety, ''thereby necessitating immediate action by the state ... to aid its border counties.''

Arizona is the nation's busiest entry point for illegal border-crossings, and illegal immigration has emerged as a significant political issue.

Crimes and other problems associated with the border include illegal immigration, vehicle thefts, drug smuggling and property damage.

Napolitano had accused the federal government of repeatedly failing to act on illegal immigration, particularly on reimbursement of state and local government costs for apprehending, prosecuting and imprisoning illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Arizona.

''I think this is very promising,'' Napolitano said Monday of the Homeland Security letter. ''We're finally seeing some movement... It's finally nice to get something in writing.''

Last month, Napolitano had the state Department of Public Safety convene a closed-door meeting of law enforcement officials to explore ways to lessen immigration problems in Arizona. Those talks included discussions of a pilot project being launched by the state to have a dozen DPS officers trained to assist local police and federal agents in immigration cases.

Napolitano drew criticism earlier this year for vetoing a proposal to give state and local police authority to enforce federal immigration law. She said the bill didn't provide any money to carry out the duties.

(c) 2005 Associated Press