The El Paso Times
February 6, 2013
by Daniel Borunda
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pointed to El Paso as an example of an increasingly secure border during a visit Tuesday to highlight improvements in border security.
Napolitano was in El Paso on a tour promoting a secure border, which some Republicans in Congress say is necessary before any proposal to overhaul immigration laws.
Napolitano's visit coincided with El Paso again being ranked the "safest big city" in annual rankings by CQ Press, a research publishing firm.
"Whenever people tell me that the border is unsafe, I say, 'What about El Paso?', " Napolitano said at a news conference in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine hangar.
Napolitano took a helicopter tour of the border east of El Paso, met with Mayor John Cook and law enforcement leaders, and visited Border Patrol agents in Clint.
"We had a really good round-table discussion with Secretary Napolitano and emphasized the fact that, in our opinion, the border is already secure," Cook said afterward. "I can only speak for the El Paso sector. We feel the El Paso sector is secure at this time."
Cook said that the need in El Paso is more staffing and technology at the border crossings to shorten the waits that hinder international travel and commerce.
Monday, Napolitano was in San Diego as part of a tour promoting a secure border
San Diego was ranked by CQ Press as second only to El Paso as the city (over 500,000 population) with the lowest crime rate.
"It's imperative we modernize the immigration system," Napolitano said. "Now, there's been some insistence that an overhaul of our immigration laws must wait until the border is secure.
"That argument not only ignores the unprecedented gains we've made in border security, it suffers from a fundamental flaw," Napolitano said. "The fundamental flaw is that it somehow says that border security is unrelated with what we do with interior enforcement."
She was asked about concerns from ranchers in rural areas, away from cities such as El Paso, who have complained about illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
Napolitano, a former governor and attorney general of Arizona, said that in the past four years security has been toughened all along the U.S.-Mexico border, including sparsely populated areas.
"We have more Border Patrol agents, boots on the ground than ever before," Napolitano said. "Number two, we are using more technology as a force multiplier than ever before -- different types of sensors, multiple vehicle radar systems, forward-operating bases. These are bases located right on the border."
Napolitano said that air cover on the border is at its greatest ever, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, which allow agents to see things on the ground from a high altitude.
President Barack Obama's proposed immigration law overhaul does not include the secure-border provision favored by some Republican senators.
U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said the "border has never been more secure."
O'Rourke pointed to a record number of criminal deportations and record-low levels of immigrant arrests plus 22,000 Border Patrol agents and $18 billion spent annually on border security.
"I agree with the secretary (Napolitano) and President Obama that we cannot allow comprehensive immigration reform to be derailed by those that refuse to see the reality of the border," O'Rourke said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Demo crat who represents far east El Paso County and a large stretch of West Texas, also said that El Paso County was safe.
"I have full faith that the men and women tasked with protecting us are keeping us safe, but more resources would be helpful in modernizing facilities in Eagle Pass, Presidio and Sierra Blanca," Gallego said in a statement.
Other political leaders claimed that the border was not secure regardless of what Napolitano said.
"I hope Secretary Napolitano returns to Washington and relays to the president and Senate Democrats what Texans already know: Our border is not secure and the federal government has a long way to go," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement before Napolitano's visit to El Paso.
State Sen. Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said, "Those who assert the border is a threat to the nation will never accept the facts. El Paso's low crime rate is no anomaly. It's been this way for years.
"Federal agencies are doing their job in securing the border," Rodrí guez said in a statement. "What we need is reform and oversight of the billions in funding and unprecedented buildup of personnel in our communities. We also need to build upon the billions of dollars in trade with Mexico, and put resources into expanding and staffing ports of entry."
Napolitano said a secure border does not mean that there will never be any illegal crossings or crimes committed along the border. She said enforcement on the border is only one part of border security.
"It's enforcement at the border and the interior of the country," she said. "And streamlining the visa process and dealing with those in the country illegally but that have committed no crime beyond that. And recognizing the critical role that trade between Mexico and the U.S has for jobs, particularly on border states like Texas."