Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., visited Arizona farmers on Tuesday to discuss the impact of the border crisis on their livelihood.
Kennedy made the trip to Yuma, the area hardest hit by the border crisis. Yuma County provides 90 percent of the nation’s winter produce.
“The tsunami of migrants walking across farm fields and defecating in irrigation canals threatens the safety of that food supply,” stated Kennedy. “Last year, one of their neighbors had to plow under 88 acres of broccoli and personally absorb the $10k per acre cost after migrants tainted irrigation water.”
These past two years of President Joe Biden’s border crisis, illegal immigrants have caused millions of dollars in damages to farmers’ fields, often forcing farmers to eat the loss. Illegal immigrants hide in the fields, trampling produce and leaving mountains of garbage and human waste in their wake.
The filth has forced farmers to go to expensive, massive lengths to salvage their crops. In some cases, food safety laws force farmers to destroy their crops.
Prior to visiting with the farmers, Kennedy went to observe the border personally. He captured a typical scene of the border on video: a steady stream of migrants coming in outside of legal ports of entry.
Yuma County Sheriff Leon Willmot told Kennedy that solutions to the border crisis shouldn’t be partisan.
“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, it’s a health and public safety issue. It’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Willmot.
Kennedy — the son of U.S. attorney general and senator Robert F. Kennedy, and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy — has had a lengthy career in the political realm, much like the rest of his family. Much of his life’s work has been steeped in environmentalism and health advocacy.
Kennedy arrived at the border on the 55th anniversary of his father’s assassination; just one day prior to the elder Kennedy’s death all those years ago when he won the California and South Dakota primaries for the presidency.
Kennedy, known for his extensive advocacy against major childhood vaccines, further rose to prominence over the course of the pandemic for challenging the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Kennedy announced his presidential run in April.
Under Biden, there have been over 5.3 million border encounters and over 1.5 million estimated gotaways. Based on the monthly average of encounters, there may be 9.1 million illegal immigrant encounters by the end of 2024.
It was a hearing two years in the making, but for government officials, business leaders, and nonprofit operators in Yuma County the sentiment toward the recent field hearing conducted by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee was better late than never.
On Feb. 24, Committee Chairman Jim Jordan led a 14-member delegation to Yuma to hear testimony about how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has responded to the southwest border crisis that began two years ago when President Joe Biden took office.
The delegation came on the heels of a border visit earlier this month by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and three freshman representatives who were hosted by Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ6) in Cochise County, in the southeast corner of the state.
The Yuma trip, however, focused on evidence of how the federal response to the ongoing border crisis in Arizona’s southwest corner has created economic challenges and public health threats.
It also led a recently retired high ranking U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) official to freely speak out on the crisis while others addressed the hard dollar costs of providing free foodstuff and medical care to tens of thousands of migrants.
Dr. Robert Trenschel, president and CEO of Yuma Regional Medical Center, described the $26 million price tag for uncompensated health care provided in 2022 to thousands of illegal immigrants who have besieged Yuma County.
“Migrant patients are receiving free care,” Trenschel noted. “We cannot provide completely free care to the residents of our community so the situation is not fair and is understandably concerning to them.”
Trenschel explained that some migrants have required intensive treatment such as dialysis and heart surgery. He added that discharging migrants after treatment is further complicated by the fact they don’t have access to the necessary post-release equipment and follow-up.
“And when babies are born, they may have to stay in the intensive care unit for a month because of the complications of their situation,” Trenschel said, adding many of the mothers had not had adequate prenatal care.
All of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee skipped the trip to Yuma, calling it a “stunt hearing.” The lack of bipartisan interest was noted by former USBP Yuma Sector Chief Chris Clem, who was the top USBP official in the area from December 2020 to December 2022 until he retired.
“I think that it should’ve been a bipartisan hearing down here because in order to solve a border security and immigration crisis, we need to involve the community, the experts, the business community,” Clem said of Thursday’s hearing. “That takes everybody and so that means everybody that is represented and their representatives need to be here.”
Clem added that because immigration is a socioeconomic issue, “it requires all sides of the aisle to address.”
The threat to Yuma County’s agriculture powered economy was also addressed by an unexpected voice – Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot.
Wilmot spoke of how USBP apprehensions in his border county went from about 40 a day prior to President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2021 to more than 1,000 on some days last year. He also shed a light on the economic and public health issues associated with the border crisis.
According to Wilmot, Yuma County supplies 90 percent of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. during the winter. But those fields as well as the water needed to support agriculture in the area is being increasingly endangered from “tons of trash, pharmaceuticals, and biological waste” associated with border crossers along the Colorado River.
Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.
More than $13 million in federal grant money has been awarded to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) for Phase Two of a long-awaited improvement to U.S. Highway 95 between the city of Yuma and the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground.
The U.S. Department of Defense awarded the funds to ADOT last month through the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot Program intended to make travel safer, and more reliable, for military personnel and equipment near installations such as the Yuma Proving Ground where a wide variety of weapons systems are tested.
According to ADOT, the nearly $13.3 million will be used to widen about three miles of the two-lane US 95 northeast of Yuma into a five-lane roadway from Rifle Range Road to the Wellton-Mohawk Canal bridge. The project, which is slated to begin later this year, will include a new bridge over the canal.
Meanwhile, ADOT has already been at work widening a 3.6-mile section of US 95 between Avenue 9E and Fortuna Wash as part of Phase One of the improvement project which included a new Gila Gravity Canal bridge.
Overall, ADOT is spending about $29 million for the much-needed improvements to US 95, which is an important thoroughfare not only for military purposes but also for agriculture users and residents of the greater Yuma area.
Lane restrictions and delays along US 95 are expected for several months.
State Rep. Brian S. Fernandez (D-Yuma) has reportedly lost a key labor endorsement in the upcoming election after being accused by a fellow Democratic lawmaker of calling her a “Fat Fu**” to other elected officials and lobbyists.
Arizona Rep. Alma Hernandez tweeted Friday that SMART—the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers—Local 359 pulled its support for Fernandez as a result of his alleged comments about Hernandez, who represents parts of the greater Tucson area.
Fernandez, who is also accused of telling people he “hates” Hernandez, is running against Republican nominee Gary Snyder in the upcoming Nov. 8 General Election to represent Legislative District 23 in southwest Arizona.
On Friday morning Hernandez released a letter calling on Fernandez to take part in sensitivity training and to apologize “to every single woman” in the Democratic Party. She also wants party leadership to “seek a punishment” against Fernandez, who was appointed to the Legislature last year to fill the seat his mother Charlene vacated after several years.
Hernandez has also demanded the entire Democratic Legislative Caucus “take a pledge to not engage in this type of behavior against women.” Minority Leader Rep. Reginald Bolding issued a response Friday which noted the leadership team “is aware” of Hernandez’s letter.
“The House of Representatives has a clear policy on Workplace Harassment that gives zero tolerance to this type of behavior,” Bolding noted. “Pursuant to this policy, these allegations will be taken seriously, properly investigated and have been referred to the Rules Office.”
Very few other Democratic state lawmakers weighed in on the controversy. One is Rep. Cesar Chavez (Phoenix), who lost in the August primary election to Anna Hernandez, sister of Alma.
The shipping container “Border Barrier” approved by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this summer along some previously unsecured sections of the border in Yuma County is fulfilling its promise, several officials reported Thursday.
The governor was in Yuma for an update on the effectiveness of the 130 double-stacked, state-owned containers he ordered put in place this summer to fill gaps in the U.S. border wall. His trip included an inspection of the project completed last month. The project was funded by border security legislation passed by state lawmakers earlier in the year.
The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs oversaw the project which closed off more than seven-tenths of a mile of border in Yuma County. That area of the border experienced 259,895 migrant encounters from October 2021 to July 2022 — a nearly 250 percent increase over the prior fiscal year.
Migrant traffic in those areas is now funneled to a few crossing points manned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) personnel.
President Joe Biden promised in July “to review” border security concerns and enhance barriers along the southwest border, but no timeline was provided. This lack of action, Ducey previously explained, was the impetus for his executive order to utilize the containers as a temporary border barrier.
“Five wide open gaps in the border wall near Yuma neighborhoods and businesses are now closed off,” Ducey said Thursday. “In just 11 days, Arizona did the job the federal government has failed to do — and we showed them just how quickly and efficiently the border can be made more secure – if you want to.”
The governor also took part in a roundtable discussion in Yuma with several local, county, state, and federal officials as well as business leaders and community members. Among those providing Ducey an “update on the ground” were USBP Yuma Sector Chief Chris Clem and CBP’s San Luis Port of Entry Director John Schwamm.
Ducey noted that multiple migrants illegally crossed the border “right in front of us” the last time he stood along the border in Yuma.
“Securing the nation’s southern border is a federal responsibility,” the governor noted. “A responsibility President Biden refuses to address. So Arizona filled the gap.”
Jonathan Lines of the Yuma County Board of Supervisors visited the Yuma “Border Barrier” with the governor on Thursday. He says the containers are working, as there have been less people attempting to cross in those areas.
“The containers have helped regain operational control of our nation’s southern border,” said Lines. “Governor Ducey’s strategy has allowed law enforcement to concentrate resources and protect our communities.”
Tim Roemer, Arizona Department of Homeland Security Director and the state’s Chief Information Security Officer, emphasized that crossing into the U.S. between official CBP ports of entry is illegal.
“The cartels have been taking advantage of the gaps in the border wall to surge migrants and overwhelm law enforcement,” Roemer noted.
Also Thursday, Ducey reacted to data released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that 748 deaths have been reported of migrants crossing the U.S. / Mexico border since Oct. 1, 2021. That number of deaths already far exceeds the 557 deaths reported from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021.
“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Ducey said. “Migrants making the dangerous journey across the border are faced with immense heat, crime and unfortunately, sometimes death. Enough is enough. That’s why Arizona is closing the border wall gaps.”
U.S. officials have not directly acknowledged the huge increase of deaths over the current fiscal year, which many border observers attribute to a lack of immigration law enforcement by the Biden administration. However, a CBP spokesperson appeared to put all blame for the rise in deaths on the cartels.
“Transnational criminal organizations continue to recklessly endanger the lives of individuals they smuggle for their own financial gain with no regard for human life,” according to the CBP statement. “The terrain along the border is extreme, the summer heat is severe, and the miles of desert migrants must hike after crossing the border in many areas are unforgiving.”