Bus tour promises 'fact-finding' mission on border violence

CREATED Jun. 24, 2011

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Reporter: Steve Nuñez

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) – The constant news of growing drug violence and illegal immigrants coming across the U.S. / Mexico border has convinced many Americans to stay away from traveling south of the border. But now organizers of a border bus tour promise to give tourists a non-political viewpoint that debunks the political rhetoric that has shaped their opinions.

Emmette Smelser stopped traveling south to do mission work for his church years ago.

"If I were living in those conditions on that side of the border they'd be stopping me everyday trying to get across," said Smelser.

He felt threatened by the rise in drug violence.

Smelser said, "We get a lot of media reports and a lot of politicians talking about the border."

So, this staunch supporter of border security decided to take a bus tour called, "Border Crisis: Fact or Fiction," to shape his own views.

The first stop: a water tank used to provide aid migrants crossing through the desert.

Bob Feinman, of Humane Borders, denies the tour promotes a political agenda.

"These tours are designed to let the border speak for itself," said Feinman.

9 On Your Side Reporter Steve Nuñez asked Smelser why he supports migrant water tanks when most proponents of border security view them as encouraging illegal immigration.

"They're (federal government) are not stopping the flow," said Smelser. "As long as there's going to be a flow why don't we humanely save the lives of those who are coming here."

From Arivaca, the tour bus takes the tour-goers to a produce plant located just outside Nogales city limits.

Bruce Bracker, a local business owner, told the tour group Mexican nationals spend $450 million each year shopping in Nogales.

"The stereotype of Mexico is that it's not a very wealthy country but they do have a middle class," said Bracker.

Rancher Dan Bell says communities are the safest they've ever been. But Bell pointed to the murder of his friend, Douglas Rancher Rob Krentz, and the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, as examples rural areas have become much more dangerous.

Nuñez asked Bell why he believes completing the border fence will make life safer for ranchers.

"Moreover, it's presence on the border that's going to make a difference and we've seen that where we've had an increase in technology and more agents out there," answered Bell.

The tour also included a stop at the border fence.

Smelser said he feels safe to once again cross over into Mexico. However, his opinion on securing the border has grown even stronger.

"I still feel we need to control our border but we need to be humane toward the border crossers," said Bell.

So far, more than 20 people have taken the border bus tour. The day-trips are organized by Grayline Tours in conjunction with Humane Borders, the same non-profit organization that supplies water tanks.

The all-day tours are held twice per month and cost $75 per person.