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Border Strike Force quick to brag, slow to share details

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Gov. Doug Ducey showcased the success of his new Border Strike Force Bureau at the State of the State address, but details of those operations prove hard to obtain. He reported, “The strike force has made over 300 arrests, taken down 14 cartel members, and seized 4,400 pounds of marijuana, 194 pounds of meth and 21 pounds of heroin.” Public records of those operations are not available despite an Arizona Sonora News Service’s public records request three weeks ago. The lack of openness raises questions about transparency and accountability if the Legislature gives Ducey $31.5 million to fire up the strike force full time. “It just came out of thin air,” said District 4 Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. “When you start off like that it gives you the idea there will not be transparency for the public when there is not...

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The San Pedro River Valley: An energy battlefield

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Cottonwoods shade a river where thousands of fish swim and millions of migrating birds stop. This green ribbon ebbs and flows through an otherwise charcoal brown valley. Dirt roads lead to farms and homes, cows graze and wind blows through desert trees and shrubs. Usually this area is quiet and peaceful, but recently this valley has been a place of unrest regarding a proposed power line that some say threatens the ecological purity of the land while others claim is needed to promote long-term economic development. On Wednesday the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a major permit for the proposed SunZia power line. This is one of the last permits the project needs before construction begins in Arizona. The $2 billion, 515-mile SunZia power line will consist of two high voltage lines that will run from central New Mexico down...

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Ducey’s new border force raises concerns from legislators, sheriffs

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Many questions remain unanswered regarding Gov. Doug Ducey’s new Arizona Border Strike Force and the money recommended to fund it. At the State of the State address, Ducey cautioned against big spending but later proposed a new $31.5 million police force that will expand state’s governments role in patrolling the border. He also is offering border counties $1.5 million to help cover their border expenses.  Some border sheriffs and state legislators question Ducey’s plan, asking why the state needs to expand its own powers instead of providing local law enforcement more funds to boost already established operations. He presented the border strike force as “a partnership between local, state and federal law enforcement” through the Department of Public Safety “in the fight against drug cartels and border crimes” calling for multiagency and multi-jurisdictional support in order to succeed. The current budget at DPS is...

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One size does not fit all: sheriffs disagree with Ducey’s border strike force plan

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Lack of communication, lack of transparency and lack of leadership seems to be the themes of how most county sheriffs feel toward the private course of action Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is taking with the new Arizona Border Strike Force proposal. Many believe Duceys’ plan is to keep a promise he made during his 2014 campaign, to close our “wide-open and unprotected border.” Now he is asking the Legislature to approve “tens of millions of dollars” in order to implement the Arizona Border Strike Force in the Department of Public Safety (DPS). He argues it will “deter, disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations responsible for smuggling drugs and humans into Arizona,” Ducey said. Of the border sheriffs in Arizona only one is happy with what Ducey is proposing while the others feel they have been left out of the loop....

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People who care lost in the border rhetoric

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Political contenders jockey for attention on how tough their immigration policies are or what can be done to reform the system, while everyday people in Arizona go into the desert to provide humanitarian aid to migrants. One couple, John and Diane Hoelter, volunteer with Humane Borders to provide water to migrants crossing the Southern Arizona desert, a dangerous journey that has claimed many lives. According to the 2014 Annual Report from the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, they have received 2,330 recovered remains of suspected undocumented border crossers since 2001. There were 129 bodies recovered in 2014, the overall trend has been going down since a peak of 223 bodies were recovered in 2010. Because most of the bodies recovered are so badly decomposed or in skeletal remains only, 84 percent had undetermined causes of death. For...

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Despite benefits, rural communities struggle to attract medical professionals

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When it comes to primary healthcare in rural communities, Arizona is falling short of health practitioners needed. Whether they’re located in the dense forests of Northern Arizona, the broad plains of the reservations located along the New Mexico border or in the remote eastern desert of the state, rural communities are subject to the least amount of practicing health professionals per capita. All throughout the United States, rural populations have a low percentage of health coverage and access to quality health services compared to economically thriving urban areas. Arizona’s estimated rural population in 2014 was 347,277, according to the Rural Assistance Center. Those lacking the most medical access in Arizona are the rural areas along the U.S./Mexico border and the Navajo and tribal reservations. Out of the 72 hospitals in Arizona, only 20 of them are in rural communities....

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Arizona cultural theater takes the stage

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Milta Ortiz, moved to Tucson with her husband solely to write the documentary drama play titled Más, about the banning of Mexican-American studies in the Tucson Unified School District. Ortiz, Borderland Theater’s marketing and outreach director, is passionately working with her husband, Marc Pinate, the theater’s producing director, to bring the theater centerstage to new audiences in Southern Arizona. Borderlands Theater has undergone various changes since being founded 30 years ago by Barclay Goldsmith. But the emphasis of the theater has always been on the border voice and telling native stories, a mission that continues to thrive under Pinate’s direction. The proximity between Mexico and Arizona has continually had a distinct influence on the culture and people of this state, and it is this culture that has distinctly begun to shape the performing arts in the southwest. Niche regional...

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Border agents crack down on First Amendment rights

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Border patrol officers and agents regularly harass, intimidate and threaten citizens and journalists alike who take photos from public rights of way at border patrol entries and do the same when they take photos of agents either there or in the field. Such harassment, including demanding people stop taking photos without a reason, is one of intimidation, said James Lyall, American Civil Liberties Union Arizona border litigation staff attorney in Tucson. CBP agents have a restrictive view of what the First Amendment allows, he said. “People in a public area have the right to photograph,” Lyall said. Because U.S. General Services Administration owns the ports of entry property, agents enforce a federal rule that allows photos of entrances and lobbies for news purposes only. Teresa Small, U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs liaison in Tucson, will not discuss why...

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Bisbee run a stairway to heaving

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  On a cold, rainy, Saturday morning that I would’ve rather spent in the comfort of my own bed, I drove two hours to Bisbee to compete in the only competitive stair climb in the United States. When I first agreed to participate in the 25th annual Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb to write this story, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The 4.5 mile course that winds through the quaint town isn’t for the faint of heart. It features a 1,175 foot elevation change throughout the race as well as nine staircases that feature a total of 1,004 steps. Full disclosure: I had never run 1,000 steps in my life, and certainly not the uneven, cracked concrete variety that I’d come across in Bisbee. With my mouth dry, legs burning, and lungs gasping for...

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Fence talkers break down the border barrier

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Along the border in Nogales through a worn out metal fence with holes smaller than pennies, Joanna Celaya sees her brother for the first time in three years. They talk, share stories of their lives for several hours. Here along the border in Nogales are the fence talkers people who come to share love with their families, people whom immigration laws in the U.S. separate. “It is hard to see your loved one through a fence after not seeing her for three years,” says Adan Celaya. “I wanted to hug her and kiss her but I couldn’t.” According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), more than 400,000 undocumented people were deported in 2012. Adan was one of them. This fence is their only hope to be together. But, they are not alone. From the Rio Grande to...

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