Published May 13, 2011
The residents of the Chiricahua-Peloncillo drug and human smuggling corridor that runs from the Mexican border north through eastern Arizona and western New Mexico are circulating a petition to send to the White House in response to President Obama's recent immigration speech.
"It is with great wonderment and sadness that we listened to your May 10 speech on immigration issues. All of the joking about moats and alligators cut residents of Portal, AZ, to the core as we sheltered with friends or at a Red Cross evacuation site, to survive a terrible fire that still threatens our lives and property, as well as our ecotourism-based economy," the letter reads.
On Sunday, a massive fire broke out in Horseshoe Canyon, about 50 miles north of the Mexican border, which residents and law enforcement say they believe was started by criminal illegal aliens. Last year, a fire in the same location caused more than $10 million in damages.
"During its first 24-hrs, the fire consumed a greater area than did last year's fire over a 6-week period. Local residents were roused after midnight, and some slept fitfully in cars after fleeing with family photos and any valuables that could be quickly assembled. Elderly retirees left with medical supplies, including oxygen tanks on which some depend," the letter reads.
The petition comes just days after Obama appeared in El Paso, Texas, to plead the case for immigration reform that has been bottled up in Congress for years. During his remarks, the president argued that the border is as safe as it has ever been but Republican opportunists are using the issue to score political points and prevent legal reforms to address illegal immigration.
"We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement. All the stuff they asked for, we've done," the president said.
"But even though we've answered these concerns, I've got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time. You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they're going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat. They'll never be satisfied," he continued.
Jeff Gee, one of the organizers behind the petition and a firefighter battling the still-burning fire in Horseshoe Canyon, says he was insulted by Obama's speech.
“I’m really disappointed at current border security, I’m really disappointed at the president’s speech saying that people like me wants moats with alligators, but moats with alligators might work, nothing else,” he told FoxNews.com.
“We’re doing everything we can to get the word out that this is serious problem, it’s not just a border issue, the drugs and crime are moving through the corridor and they keep going to major cities. I don’t know if this letter will help, but nothing else is."
Cochise County, Ariz., Sheriff Larry Dever, who penned an op-ed in The New York Times Friday describing the plight of border residents, told FoxNews.com that the petition is a plea for the administration to take a closer look at the hardships they are suffering.
"These people are not overreacting. What they suggest in letter is very deep part of their belief system based on their experience and their experience has been horrific -- they see human smuggling and drug trafficking, they sit on their porch and watch people walk through, they've had their homes burglarized," Dever said.
"It's a beautiful landscape and for those that moved out there for a sense of tranquility and peace, that's been destroyed," he added.
The letter has been posted at post offices in the border towns of Portal, Ariz. and Rodeo, New Mexico, for signatures to be added.
Copies of the letter will also be sent to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, and National Public Radio.
In the letter, petitioners say that despite the president's protestations, "neither the border nor daily life" is secure.
"Seizure of record quantities of drugs may pad the statistics of Homeland Security, but it does nothing to ease the burdens we have been forced to bear. Over the years, as our homes have been burgled or invaded, our fences, water lines and windows repeatedly broken, our businesses driven toward bankruptcy, our natural surroundings desecrated by trash and fire, and our lives even obliterated (neighbor Rob Krentz, murdered by a drug scout), it has amazed us how little note is taken of these tragedies by our government and the press," the letter reads.
"Is it enough, now that we have suffered back-to-back fires that threaten to erase our very reasons for living here? What must we say or do to garner your attention and help? How is it that, on the same day we took Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, we could not prevent illegals - 50 miles within our borders (!) - from setting a fire along a known smuggling route in an extremely dry year? Why were federal agents (BP, ICE, National Guard, or Special Forces) not posted along this route in anticipation of a repeat of last year's calamity? Better still, why were the illegals not captured before they had traveled 50 miles north of the border?! Or, in the eyes of our government, do we just reside in a 'sacrifice zone'?"
The letter also describes the devastation the fires have caused to the areas unique biodiversity, which attracts bird-watchers and naturalists from around the world.
The petitioners then asks the president to outline how he plans to fulfill his obligation to protect their constitutional right to defense from foreign invasions "especially as this regards fires set by Mexican drug and human smugglers.
"We thank you in advance for your anticipated response," it concludes.
Dever said the residents of the area are generally self-sufficient and do their part, "but they also expect government agencies to take some responsibility. They're not, and these people are suffering the consequences," Dever said.
The residents will "come together and unite in this front," he added. "They're not going to give up. They're not going to roll over."