DHS chief tours RGV for 1st time, touts border security
February 21, 2012 11:16 PM
Naxiely Lopez and Jared Taylor
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McALLEN — Secretary Janet Napolitano called her first visit to South
Texas a productive one.
The two-day appearance was her first since her appointment as head of
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security January 2009, she said
Napolitano toured the Rio Grande and met with an array of federal and
local law enforcement officers, including those at the Pharr-Reynosa
International Bridge and Falcon Dam, to learn about security
operations and efforts to facilitate lawful trade.
The former Arizona governor said she learned a lot about the
challenges the terrain here presents for officers and technology.
"Some of the things we do in Arizona — the high towers with the
special radar sensors — that makes sense in broad expansions of open
land, (but) they may not work here because of the kind of vegetation
we have," she said, adding that all acquired knowledge will be taken
into consideration for future planning.
Napolitano touted $600 million in additional federal funding that has
gone to the Southwest border in the past three years. That money
hired an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents, 250 Immigration and
Customs Enforcement special agents and 250 customs officers, who
patrol ports of entry.
"We are not just reacting, we are also proactive," Napolitano said.
That sentiment isn't shared by everyone along the border, though.
The Texas Border Coalition, an alliance of local politicians and
business leaders along the border, last week criticized President
Barack Obama's newest budget proposal, saying it doesn't provide
enough funding to upgrade international crossings and facilitate trade.
The group pointed to a Government Accountability Office estimate that
$6 billion is needed to modernize and expand international crossings.
The president's budget calls for about 73 new customs agents, while
the Texas Border Coalition contends another 6,000 are necessary.
Napolitano did not reveal any major plans or changes for operations
in the area, and instead spoke about the continued partnership
between local, state and federal agencies.
"It's about one team addressing the border as a whole," said CBP
Commissioner David Aguilar in response to criticism from the Texas
Border Coalition, which recently called for more funding for CBP
officers. "This is not about just between the ports of entry, it's
not about just the ports of entry — it's about the border as a whole."
Napolitano acknowledged drug-related crime in the area, but would not
refer to it as spillover violence.
"The sheriffs I just met with told me they haven't seen it," she
said, adding that law enforcement officers have not seen cartel-on-
cartel or cartel-on-law enforcement violence like the kind seen in
Mexico. "That kind of spillover violence we have not seen."
Sheriff Lupe Treviño has said Hidalgo County experienced its first
case of spillover violence in late October when one of his deputies
was shot and wounded by a local gang member who was trying to recover
a drug load for the Gulf Cartel.
A group of about 20 protesters from La Union del Pueblo Entero, a
nonprofit organization based in San Juan, picketed outside the
McAllen U.S. Border Patrol station, hoping to catch a glimpse of
Napolitano or perhaps more importantly catch her ear.
They called for an end to the use of Secure Communities, a federal
database that uses fingerprints to identify criminals, which the
protestors said is skyrocketing deportations and splitting families
apart for traffic violations.
Napolitano responded by reiterating the administration's effort to
prioritize the deportations, which target recent border crossers,
fugitives of warrants and criminals.
"That does not mean there will not be families, unfortunately, that
get separated in an immigration process," she said. "I think that
what they are really advocating for is that our nation's immigration
laws be reformed."
The president has been one of the strongest supporters for that, but
he does not have the unilateral power to do it himself, she added.
Napolitano said that while seizures of drugs, currency and weapons
are on the rise, violent crime along the border is down significantly.
"These are among the safest areas in the United States," she said.
"We have made a lot of progress, but we are not standing here to take
a victory lap. We are here to say, 'We are listening, we are
learning, we are moving, we are acting.'
"This area of the border is very important to us."