Brewer: 'More boots on ground' necessary for secure border
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer capped off an aerial tour of the region Tuesday by reiterating her argument that the border was not secure and that there "needs to be more boots on the ground."
Brewer met with Customs and Border Patrol agents, as well as southern Arizona ranchers, before boarding one the state's National Guard Blackhawk helicopters for a three-hour tour of the borderlands. Upon her return, she spoke to reporters in a press conference at a private hanger in Tucson.
The Republican governor said she "was hoping to see something different," but that ranchers continued to face "illegal activity" on a daily basis.
Brewer was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, the state's National Guard commander, and leaders of the Joint Counter Narco-Terrorism Task Force, a counter-drug program supported by the Guard.
Last week, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano completed a similar tour along the San Diego sector.
"I believe the border is secure, the border is safe," said Napolitano. "That's not to say it's 100 percent secure—it will never be 100 percent."
Brewer's stance runs against those of Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, who have have pushed for comprehensive immigration reform for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants that reside in the United States. Brewer remains adamant that border security should remain the top issue.
During her State of the State address in January, Brewer said she would not participate in conversations about immigration reform until the government secures the border. This despite the doubling of Border Patrol agents in Arizona to 5,130, $18 billion in spending, and the deployment of nearly 600 miles of fencing, sensors and a drone program.
In 2005, the number of people apprehended by border agents in the Tucson Sector reached a high of more than 490,000, but by 2012 that number had dropped by 120,000. At the same time, agents seized about 1 million pounds of marijuana in the Tucson sector, double the amount seized in 2005 when the number of border agents started to increase.
Drug trafficking and illegal immigration in Southern Arizona spiked after crackdowns in California and Texas, sending smugglers and undocumented immigrants into the rugged desert south of Tucson.
On Monday, Brewer repeated her refusal to allow undocumented immigrants granted deferred action legal status by President Obama to get driver's licenses. Illinois recently became the fourth U.S. state to allow illegal immigrants to get licenses, following behind Washington, New Mexico and Utah. In response to Brewer's executive decision, a lawsuit was filled in U.S. District Court in Arizona and a hearing is set for late March.
By mid-January, 14,069 undocumented immigrants out of nearly 80,000 applied for deferment through the program in Arizona according to data from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service.