The Obama administration is committed to making sure the entire Southwest region along the U.S.-Mexico border is secure, while also allowing for the ease of travel and trade, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday during a visit to Arizona.
Napolitano was joined by Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, on the trip to inspect border operations in the Tucson area, meet with stakeholders and highlight progress made toward stemming the flow of illegal drugs.
The Arizona stop comes a day after Napolitano swung through Texas to highlight how the new congressional budget should ease the need to furlough or cut overtime hours for border agents. Napolitano said after meeting with Houston law enforcement officials and business leaders the agency still is reviewing the numbers but it appears security will "get back to where we were before sequestration."
Her tour of the Southwest comes as Congress aims to tackle immigration reform this month, and the debate swirls around whether anything meaningful can occur before consensus is reached on defining exactly what securing the border means.
"At DHS, we are committed to making sure that the entire Southwest border is secure while expediting legal travel and trade," Napolitano said Friday.
"Over the past four years, this Administration has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border, and undertaken an unprecedented effort to transform our nation's immigration enforcement systems into one that focuses on public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system."
There's no doubt progress has been made over the past 20 years, something that can be highlighted in numbers alone. Where border agents made some 530,000 arrests in San Diego in fiscal year 1993, for example, they had fewer than 30,000 in 2012.
"Secure the border first" has become the popular mantra as some say it's as secure as it has ever been, and likely will ever be, with key border cities seeing crime rates fall. Others, however, say it's still not safe and that illegal activity has simply been pushed further out into the rural areas.
Napolitano and Kerlikowske noted significant progress has been made at ports of entry and all along the border from California to Texas.
They explained how the Department of Homeland Security has seized 39 percent more drugs, 71 percent more money, and 189 percent more weapons along the Southwest border between 2009 and 2012 as compared to fiscal years 2005-2008.
The pair also pointed out how the Department of Homeland Security has increased the number of personnel in the region from about 9,800 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to more than 21,000 today, increasing the use of drones and adding even more fencing along the border in key trafficking areas.