Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano: Border tactics OK for now

El Paso Times
By Robert Moore
Posted: 11/17/2011 09:47:29 AM MST

The Obama administration will focus on sustaining ongoing border efforts rather than launching any big new initiatives in the coming months, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with the El Paso Times.

"One of the things that has happened in the past in the border is you would get a surge of effort for a few months or what have you, and then once the numbers started to turn around, the manpower would be withdrawn or the technology would be shifted around," she said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

Napolitano hosted a White House roundtable discussion earlier Wednesday with border law-enforcement leaders from California and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

"And what we spoke about this morning in our meeting at the White House, and I think the local officials who were there made it very clear, is that this requires continued, sustained involvement and true partnership between federal agents and local police officers and sheriff's deputies," she said.

No officials from El Paso or Southern New Mexico attended the meeting, though Las Cruces Police Chief Richard Williams had been invited. The invitation was finalized on Monday and Williams was unable to rearrange his schedule on such short notice, Mayor Ken Miyagishima said.

At the White House roundtable, Napolitano stressed the administration's efforts to both bolster border security and facilitate legitimate trade with Mexico.

"We are committed to working with our federal, state and local partners to continue to strengthen our border security efforts while expanding legal trade and travel," she said at the White House session.

Border security and illegal immigration have been frequent topics for Republican presidential candidates, but legitimate border commerce is rarely if ever discussed.

"Yes, it can be drowned out during a political year, but for those of us who know the border, who've lived on the border, it's just a clarion call to us to speak even more affirmatively about that area of the country and what's been going on there and give a more honest impression," said Napolitano, a former Arizona governor.

On other topics:
Napolitano disputed a September report by retired Army Gens. Barry McCaffrey and Robert Scales that said Mexican drug cartels were trying to establish a "sanitary zone" in Texas border counties as a way of evading Mexican law enforcement and establishing a foothold in the United States. Napolitano said while the cartels clearly are moving drugs through the border, there's no evidence to back up claims of significant infiltration in Texas border counties.

"Unfortunately, that report was done and no one ever spoke to anybody at (Customs and Border Protection) about some of the statements in there," she said.
The Homeland Security secretary said there are signs of security improvements in Mexico.

"I would say overall that we're seeing very good progress in Mexico. We've seen, for example, the homicide number -- while still way too high -- in Ciudad Juárez has gone down a lot this year. We're seeing more vetted (police) units put in place. We're seeing the development of greater capacity on the law-enforcement side through the Mérida Initiative."

Robert Moore may be reached at bmoore@elpasotimes.com; 546-6149.