TUCSON, Ariz. – Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg wants the U.S. Customs Department’s Black Hawk helicopters to be armed with .50-caliber machine guns. Shadegg says this would allow a gunner on board to fire into the engine blocks of smugglers’ cars as they bring workers across the desert toward Phoenix and Tucson. Rep. Jeff Flake, Shadegg’s fellow Republican, said recently he would support such a move if the Department of Homeland Security requests it.

“This is a ridiculous proposal from a policy and liability standpoint,” stated Jen Allen, director of Border Alliance Network here. “It would further turn the Arizona/Mexico border region into a literal war zone – a war that is killing men, women and children for the simple act of trying to improve their lives or unite with family members.” The Network has been instrumental in documenting abuses and working on migrants’ rights issues. “Shadegg’s proposal will give rise to more anti-immigrant violence in Arizona,” Allen continued, calling the proposal “state-sanctioned violence against immigrants.”

People in Tucson are very upset by the latest record number of deaths along the border with Mexico in 2003. Over 400 migrants looking for work and their family members have died of dehydration in the scorching desert, which has been tagged the “corridor of death” by the Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection Robert Bonner. With the advent of winter, the latest victims are reported to have died of exposure on freezing nights. NAFTA and globalization have flooded the markets in Mexico and Central America with low-priced U.S. corn, driving more and more desperate farmers to attempt the perilous trip north for survival.

The author can be reached at susan@susanthorpe.com.