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Lawmakers Urged to Secure Border Before Seeking Immigration Overhaul

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FILE: In this March 26, 2010. photo, a crossing guard holds up a stop sign as a parent and child cross the street to get to school at Fort Hancock, Texas, located about 50 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, epicenter of a bloody drug war that has sent Mexican families fleeing. (AP) (AP)

Violence on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border is raging. On Friday, gunmen killed seven police officers in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, Texas. The Juarez drug cartel claimed responsibility for the brazen attack. 

Gunmen attacked another government convoy on Saturday in the western state of Michoacan -- in a sign that the cartels have shifted tactics and are starting to target law enforcement and government officials, as opposed to rival gangs. 

U.S. authorities suspect an illegal immigrant murdered Arizona rancher Robert Krentz on March 27. 

The violence has heightened concerns about border security, leading some to warn Washington that an election-year push for immigration legislation is premature. 

Stephen Brophy, president of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and a friend of Krentz, said any move to push for federal legislation without improving security could entice hordes of immigrants to cross into the U.S. illegally in hopes of hitting the jackpot -- a law that puts them in the clear. 

"You can't have immigration reform until you have secure borders," Brophy said Monday. "If the border is not secure, there will be a flood of them (coming) north thinking that immigration reform will legitimatize their presence here, the likes of which we've never seen." 

Republican lawmakers, while not uniformly against the idea of taking another stab at immigration legislation, held to that position in interviews on the Sunday talk shows. 

"I just don't think this is the right time to take up this issue with the border security problems, the drug wars going on across the border," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told "Fox News Sunday," adding that high unemployment also needs to be addressed first. 

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told CNN's "State of the Union" that passing an immigration package "is not practical because we still haven't sealed the border." 

Calls for better border security have mounted from members of both parties since Krentz's murder. Some have called for more Border Patrol agents. Some have called for a stronger National Guard presence. 

Some have called for the border fence to be drastically improved -- not only does the fence cover only 650 miles of the 2,000-mile southern border, but half of that structure is composed of vehicle barriers. Those are relatively low barriers meant to keep out cars and trucks, but not people crossing on foot. 

Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans, put forward a 10-point border security plan last week that includes sending thousands more National Guard, providing millions of dollars to local law enforcement and completing the border fence, among other presumably costly proposals. 

The jump-starting of debate over a new immigration package in Washington coincided with the signing of a law in Arizona that makes it a state crime to be an illegal immigrant. Some Democratic lawmakers say that in light of the state law, Congress needs to act on immigration to make sure other states don't follow Arizona's lead. 

"The idea that state by state would start developing its own immigration laws in the country -- imagine what a patchwork that might look like," Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., told NBC's "Meet the Press." "It's demanding a national answer to immigration policy, so before this even gets further out of hand, we've got to step up and do the job." 

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., speaking alongside Dodd, suggested he was keeping an open mind but that the timing might not be right. 

"First thing we better do is enforce our borders and know who is here and who comes and who leaves," he said. "That's number one, and then go into the rest."