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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A security appropriations bill moving through Congress could earmark funds for an immigration and customs office in southern Utah, a place some say has become a battleground in the fight against illegal immigration, drug smuggling and possibly terrorism.
"I-70 and I-15 in Utah have become large conduits for the smuggling of illegal immigrants and illegal substances as these foreigners flee from the Southern states as fast as possible in order to get north, where they believe enforcement is less stringent," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said on the Senate floor this past week.
The bill passed the Senate and is headed to the House for consideration. Under it's provisions, Utah would get more than $10 million in security grants for police and firefighters.
Hatch got Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security, to specifically include Utah immigration issues in the bill.
"With two major arteries for illegal immigration running through the southern portion of Utah, citizens in that beautiful area have grown tired of the strain and difficulties presented by the flood of illegal immigrants," he said.
Blanding Police Chief Mike Halliday agrees with Hatch's assessment. He says large quantities of drugs pass through the area on a regular basis. Federal funds would help bolster Halliday's small police force.
"On the last three or four loads of drugs we have found, at least one of the (accompanying) people has been illegal," Halliday said.
Hatch says it's clear illegal smuggling has shifted away from main travel routes to rural highways where the level of law enforcement is perceived to be less. Aggravating the problem is that most Utah immigration issues are referred to San Francisco, 650 miles away, Hatch notes.
Nationally, the bill also provides for 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents and hundreds of new immigration criminal investigators and deportation officers.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)