For the past several weeks, all eyes have focused on the turmoil in the Middle East and the daily atrocities being committed by Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. While the situation obviously deserves the American public's close attention, there's another crisis that's flying below the radar: the influx of cartel-related activity and violence along the U.S. side of the Mexican border.
But not everyone here in the United States agrees on the depth of the problem.
Based on some of her recent statements related to border security, sometimes I wonder whether Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is talking about the Utah-Arizona border or the U.S.-Mexico border.
Here's what our former governor said during a January speech in El Paso:
"It is inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border is overrun with violence and out of control. . . . This statement - often made only to score political points - is just plain wrong."
Tell an Arizona cattle rancher the border is more secure than ever, and you're guaranteed to get a confused look.
I believe our borders are far from secure, and until they are, any discussion related to immigration reform is premature and inappropriate. Washington has become addicted to comprehensive legislation spanning thousands of pages: You can't have health-care reform without an individual mandate; you can't reform Wall Street without creating a brand-new government agency; you can't achieve border security without a pathway to citizenship.
I reject that flawed model. We must secure the border first. That's the bottom line.
To back up her dubious claims that the border is more secure than ever, Napolitano likes to highlight a decrease in the apprehension rate over the past two years. While I don't dispute the accuracy of these statistics, I do have a serious issue with how they are being used.
Without question, apprehension statistics are important, but the number of illegal immigrants we catch crossing the borders is meaningless if we don't know the total number of people crossing the border illegally. In other words, if we stopped apprehending people at the border altogether, the apprehension rate -if you follow Napolitano's logic - would be better than ever: zero percent.
Indeed, other recent statistics belie the secretary's assertions. According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office, the Border Patrol reported only 44 percent of the border was under operational control, which in my book is a failing.
But when it comes to violence along the border, the importance of statistics - provided by either party - doesn't speak to what's really happening. I've spoken to people along the border who live in fear of drug and human traffickers. These folks don't pay attention to pie charts and PowerPoint slides coming out of the spin factories of Washington. They just want their families safe and their land secure.
In a chilling article in the Daily last week called "The New Mafia," Josh Bernstein depicts the horrible rise of "drophouses" throughout the Southwest and the atrocities committed by paid human smugglers, or "coyotes."
The coyotes trick their victims - typically illegal immigrants - into paying them for safe passage into America. The coyotes then barbarically store their victims in drophouses featuring conditions that make many prisons look like Holiday Inns.
Victims are typically forced to call their relatives back home for ransom money to pay off their captures.
According to Bernstein, there are more than 800 drophouses in Phoenix alone.
Arizonans know our situation at the border is unacceptable. We can't afford to punt on this issue any longer. Over the coming months, I will work with members of both parties to formulate a plan featuring common-sense ideas for securing our borders. Gone are the days where we can just throw money at the border problem and hope the situation improves.
We need to start thinking with our brains about border security, not just our wallets.
Ben Quayle is a U.S. congressman representing Arizona's 3rd Congressional District, which stretches from north-central Phoenix to New River.