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Pressure Point

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In addition, a new "administration emphasis" was going to be placed on deporting illegals from the five states "most impacted" by aliens--California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Arizona was not mentioned.

To the last man, all of the Border Patrol officers contacted by New Times, both in Washington, D.C., and in Arizona, refused to publicly criticize their boss, Reno. But privately, many say they were outraged.

"She comes down here and sees the disaster that is Nogales," complains one agent, "and then goes home and screws us. Morale was bad that day, let me tell you."
The agents didn't have a monopoly on anger. Arizona Senator John McCain complained that the state had been given short shrift, and charged that Reno was playing politics with the manpower allocations.

McCain pointed out that while many of the states set to receive aid were also some of the most powerful electorally, they were hardly on the front lines of the immigration war.

Scott Celley, McCain's spokesman, says that "it is clear that the Clinton administration was trying to use the new members of the Border Patrol to buy political good will in big states."

"That way Clinton can come back later and claim he was tough on crime and tough on immigration."
Of course McCain, one of Congress' more partisan Republicans, gloried in the chance to embarrass Clinton and Reno. He was undoubtedly delighted to highlight the fact that the attorney general had "betrayed" Arizona by visiting and paying lip service to the state's border troubles.

But there is more to McCain's charges than partisan knife-tossing. Capitol Hill staffers close to Arizona's senior senator, Dennis DeConcini, and staff members within the Department of Justice itself, confirm that politics played a major role in the allotment of new border officers.

The staff members say that Justice officials who were dispatched February 4 to brief an angry DeConcini on the allotment plan were candid about the rationale behind Reno's decision.

"It was deemed a political imperative by the administration that anticrime assets be given to states that matter politically, especially in a congressional election year," says one staffer. "Politics, not actual border conditions, dictated this decision.

"Arizona, from the Clintons' point of view, just doesn't matter."
Apparently, these days, neither does Dennis DeConcini. Perhaps no one had more reason to be upset about the slight to Arizona than the senator--who for almost two decades has fashioned himself as the state's white knight on immigration issues. As chairman of the powerful appropriations subcommittee that oversees immigration, he has managed to funnel significant amounts of federal dollars into the border region.

Of course, one could argue that DeConcini's border efforts were aimed more at feathering the beds of his friends. The border program the senator is most proud of--the aerostat surveillance balloons--has proved unreliable in spotting border-running drug traffickers. A 1990 report on the PBS show Frontline revealed that two former DeConcini staff members, Romano Romani and Robert Mills, left the senator to lobby for TCOM, the company that makes aerostats. TCOM won a $100 million government contract to produce the balloons soon after. DeConcini has also accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from companies that make border-surveillance devices.

But questions about the propriety of some border-oriented pork projects aside, DeConcini's presence on the appropriations subcommittee did ensure that Arizona would never be at the back of the line when funding was dispensed.

He's still on the subcommittee, but as an announced lame duck, he won't be there for long. Staffers say that the fact that DeConcini wasn't even briefed in advance on the Border Patrol allotments shows that he has been deemed irrelevant by his own party.

"Pleasing DeConcini isn't important anymore," a staff member says. "He's on his way out. The voices Clinton heard on this issue were coming from [California's Democratic senators] Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. They're going to be around a while.

"Arizona has lost its voice on immigration control."
Neither Reno nor Doris Meissner, the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service--which developed the new allocation plan--returned calls from New Times. Meissner, however, has been quoted as saying the plan didn't intentionally exclude Arizona from receiving aid, and has promised--at DeConcini's prodding--to provide 33 additional officers for the state.

McCain mouthpiece Celley calls the promise "a token," since the new officers will be secretaries and clerical staff, not line agents. He blames DeConcini for "failing to be forceful enough."

"DeConcini did nothing to help his state. He didn't seem to care. Where was he during the whole process leading up to these manpower decisions?" Celley asks.

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Darrin Hostetler