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Napolitano: Signs point to 'healthy, healthy border'

Pointing to signs of a "healthy border," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano barnstormed through the Southwest this week, stopping in Tucson on Friday to promote the agency's security efforts while allowing trade and travel along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Federal officials are still debating a way to accurately measure how secure the border is, she said. But falling crime rates and a stabilizing housing market point to a "safe and secure border zone," she said.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy and Border Patrol's acting commissioner Thomas Winkowski toured with the former Arizona governor, visiting the Douglas port of entry and meeting with the police chiefs of Douglas, Wilcox and Benson, as well as the new Cochise County sheriff.

"We went to get ground truth," said Napolitano during a press conference at the sector headquarters in Tucson. "You can get numbers and reports and things, but what you want to see is what's happening on the ground."

Until this week's two-day trip to Texas and Arizona, Napolitano had not spoken to reporters during her recent visits to the Arizona border.

While security remains a crucial issue in immigration reform, Napolitano said she was "encouraged with what appears to be taking place, but in the meantime, we will continue to do the job we are expected to, making this area as safe and secure as we can make it."

She touted several positive trends, including Tucson's falling crime rate and a recent story by Forbes that called Tucson the best city to buy a new home.

"These are signs of a healthy, healthy border," she said.

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"When you line up the stats for the Arizona-Mexico border, what you see is that they have trended—in some respects significantly trended—in the right direction," she said. "It's our goal to keep that progress going."

According to figures released by Border Patrol after the conference, between 2009-2012 drug seizures have increased 39 percent, currency seizures by 71 percent, and firearms by 189 percent compared to the preceding years of 2005-2008.

Kerlikowske said that the U.S. demand for drugs has declined, "We have made significant progress in reducing consumption of methamphetamine and cocaine."

Napolitano spoke about the complexity of measuring border security, saying that a border security index remains in the draft process since there is disagreement about how to weigh individual border qualities like crime rates, narcotic seizures, and apprehensions against each other.

"If you're interested in crime rates, you look at crime rates. If you're interested in getting rid of narcotics, you look at narcotic seizures. If you're interested in illegal immigration, you look at apprehensions. If you're interested in overall border health, you might look at things like property values."

She likened the system to baseball statistics, noting that like a single baseball player, the border has many different stats to evaluate, but "it's really the whole picture that makes a secure and safe border zone."

Napolitano said that officials were working hard to "minimize the effects of sequestration" and could go back to Congress for money to mitigate furloughs of border agents.

While she has not seen the proposed immigration legislation, Napolitano pushed for reform, including employer sanctions.

"Our immigration system needs to be rebooted," she said. "So that it matches the needs of the 21st century, and not the needs of the 20th century."

"We can basically ignore that people are here or we can create a path from which they can come out of the shadows and legalize, get right with the law, and earn their path back to citizenship."

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1 comment on this story

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1767 comments
Apr 6, 2013, 10:36 am
-2 +10

“We can basically ignore that people are here or we can create a path from which they can come out of the shadows and legalize, get right with the law, and earn their path back to citizenship.”

Or, we can do the right thing and get them to leave. Someone who tries to steal something, in this case, US residency, should not be rewarded by being granted that which they try to steal.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Napolitano speaks to reporters Friday.