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Border Patrol increases boost one local economy

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: There are lots of ideas about the best way to fight illegal immigration. President Bush is asking Congress for 6,000 more US Border Patrol officers. Over the past 10 years, the Patrol has tripled in size and is now up to 12,000.

Douglas, Arizona is a small town along the border. Claudine LoMonaco says more Border Patrol officers sounds like a great idea to them, but not because of illegal immigration.

CLAUDINE LoMONACO: For the last several years, this former mining town, population 18,000, has been a hotspot for illegal immigration.

It’s also become home to one of the country’s largest Border Patrol stations. Ten years ago, Douglas had 25 Border Patrol agents. Today, it has 550.

With overtime, a starting agent here can earn around $50,000 a year. That’s a lot of buying power in community with a per capita income of $10,000.

Just ask Carlos Ortiz, owner of Yogi’s Mexican restaurant.

CARLOS ORTIZ: I’m really happy with the business they’re giving me.

Border Patrol agents make up a quarter of his business. As he talks, a pair of off duty agents sits eating their dinner.

ORTIZ: We had a table of 10 this morning. We had a table of six this afternoon for lunch. They come in and they splurge. The more they come in the better.

Young, single Border Patrol agents with cash to burn fill up most of Douglas’s restaurants and cafes at meal times. Local mechanics replace mountains of chewed up tires on the agency’s army of trucks.

And real estate developers are busy building new subdivisions. Developer Hector Salinas:

HECTOR SALINAS: The majority of the people that are getting their homes built are Border Patrol.

Most Douglas housing consists of old, paint-chipped homes from its heyday as a copper mining town. Only 40 percent of the agents that work in Douglas live here. To attract more, the city built an upscale, 80-unit apartment development.

It sits on the town’s golf course. So many agents live at this complex, that among themselves they jokingly refer to it as “Rancho de la Migra,” Mexican slang for immigration agent.

Douglas native and Mayor Ray Borane helped build these apartments and he loves having so many Border Patrol agents in his town.

MAYOR RAY BORANE: The Border Patrol are good people. They’re upstanding citizens for the most part.

Upstanding citizens that help bolster the town’s economy.

Ironically, Mayor Borane doesn’t think the border buildup will accomplish anything. Border Patrol is still catching the same number of people it caught 20 years ago, only they’re paying far more to do it.

Borane says the most effective way crack down on illegal immigration would be worksite enforcement. But if the government wants to send more agents, he says, he’ll hold the door open.

BORANE: It’s not going to stop the immigrants from coming over here. The three fences will not stop them from coming over here but if they send them, we’ll welcome them.”

If somebody’s going to benefit from the billions of dollars the US pumps into the border, Borane says it might as well be his town.

In Douglas, Arizona, I’m Claudine LoMonaco for Marketplace.

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