DOUGLAS — Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly was in Douglas Friday touring the Douglas Port of Entry in what was his first visit to the border as a senator.
Later in the day the senator was at the Cochise College Douglas campus where he had lunch with J.D. Rottweiler, president of Cochise College, before participating in a Zoom meeting with 10 community stakeholders. A number of topics, including COVID-19, the local economy, education, immigration and border security were discussed.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come down today was to see the Castro Port of Entry,” Kelly said. “I spent some time with Guadalupe Ramirez, who is the director of the office of field operations at the port. That port of entry is an appropriations committee priority for me to get it upgraded. It’s incredibly important for security but it’s also important for our economy. It’s on the GSA priority list for construction. We need to make sure that the funding is there in the next appropriations cycle to get it upgraded because it has issues.”
Kelly said as Arizona looks to rebuild its economy following COVID-19 a large part of that economy is trade with Mexico.
“I know the amount of traffic across the border from those coming from Mexico to shop here has decreased significantly,” he said. “As we go through this next cycle and incorporate more COVID relief money, how do we smartly target this money towards where it’s needed the most, how are we going to save some of these small businesses? For me it’s an education so I can do the job serving in the U.S. Senate.”
Border security, the senator said, was one of the issues he was going to discuss with the stakeholders at the zoom meeting.
“I’m not in favor of an 18th century solution for a 21st century problem,” he said. “I think we can have excellent security by employing new, better and very focused technology. In some areas barriers and fencing make a lot of sense. In others we can do things more efficiently and I think we could do a better, more cost effective job using different kinds of sensors in different places. That’s a big part of my visit here.”
Kelly added he’s never been in favor of a 2,000-mile border wall across the southern border.
“I am in favor of barriers and fencing where it makes sense,” he said. “In other places where it doesn’t make sense there are technological options. Technology is changing all the time. We can be more efficient, more cost effective and we could be more effective in identifying, apprehending individuals who are illegally crossing our border. We need strong border security. We don’t need a barrier going through Guadalupe Canyon as an example. We can have strong border security but in a way that’s a lot smarter.”
Earlier in the week Kelly met with Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino and the Arizona Border Counties Coalition regarding the coronavirus and the distribution of the vaccine to border communities.
“Some of these more rural areas are not getting a lot of doses because of the way that we made the calculation on how we distribute the vaccine,” Kelly said. “Yuma County gets 800 doses of the vaccine a week. When you look at the number of vaccine doses available for Cochise County, at the current rate we’re not going to get immunity. So as more doses become available, the amount here has to go up. Border Patrol and CBP in my opinion are frontline workers. They’re having a lot of interaction with a lot of different individuals and they’re at risk. We need to figure out a way to get them vaccinated. Border communities often have different needs because we’re on the border. We need to make sure the border counties are receiving a sufficient allotment so we can get to immunity here and not have it at the end of this year. We need this sooner, rather than later. We need to continue to encourage people to get vaccinated, wash their hands, wear a mask and social distance.”
Rottweiler said Cochise College was honored that Kelly would think of the school as a place to visit and utilize its technology to hold his Zoom meeting.
“I felt this was also a perfect opportunity to show Sen. Kelly the important role Cochise College plays in all of Cochise County while also talking about initiatives and things that we’re trying to do with our partners,” Rottweiler said. “I felt he was very receptive to the things we had to say.”
Cochise College has hosted other state and federal dignitaries in the past who have decided to hold their meetings at the Douglas campus while talking about border issues.
“I think the fact that continues to happen says something about Cochise College and what we have to offer,” the president said.
Douglas Mayor Donald Huish said he was pleased the senator took time out of his busy schedule to come to Douglas, tour the port of entry, learn more about the proposed expansion and gain a better understanding of what the needs are here.
“I think Sen. Kelly saw today it’s not just one thing going on here other than the port of entry, there’s many other aspects that go on,” he said. “There were a wide variety of subjects that were addressed today and yes, the main purpose of the visit was the port of entry, but there were also several other issues the senator needed to be made aware of and I think we got that across to him.”
The senator said the message that he will take back to his colleagues in Washington, D.C., is that Douglas as well as Cochise County need the funding for the port of entry expansion.
“This brings real revenue to our country if we upgrade these ports of entry,” he said. “It’s not only good for the state of Arizona, it’s good for trade, it’s good for our country, so this is an investment. I would like to see these ports of entry get moved up on the priority list and get the funding they need so they can be more efficient. That’s going to be my main message from the visit today.”