Napolitano says border security critics trying to 'score political points'

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a stern warning to Mexican drug cartels on Monday as she vowed to push Congress to revamp U.S. immigration laws.

Napolitano, speaking at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the southern U.S. border has never been more secure than in recent years and public officials who argue otherwise do so to “score political points.” 

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Assessing the number of seizures of illegal drugs, weapons and cash as well as the increasing number of deported criminals who had been in the United States illegally, Napolitano said critics of that border's security were wrong.

“It is inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border is overrun with violence and out of control,” Napolitano said in prepared remarks. “This statement — often made only to score political points — is just plain wrong.”

“Not only does it ignore all of the statistical evidence, it also belittles the significant progress that effective law enforcement has made to protect this border and the people who live alongside it.”

Napolitano issued a warning to Mexican drug cartels and people planning to cross the border illegally. Over the past two fiscal years, she said, local and federal law enforcement have seized $282 million in illegal currency, a 35 percent increase; 7 million pounds in illegal drugs, a 16 percent increase; and 6,800 illegal weapons, a 28 percent increase.

“Today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border,” she said. “You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you.

“And that message extends to anyone considering coming across that border illegally, whether a smuggler, a human trafficker, or an unlawful immigrant seeking work,” she went on. “There are more Border Patrol agents on that border than ever before. There are more customs officials. There is more technology. Do not throw in your lot with the cartels or the criminal organizations, because the likelihood of getting caught and the consequences of doing so are higher than ever before.”

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched the country's war against the cartels in 2006. And though nearly half were killed in 2010, a report by the FBI last year showed that the border-region cities of Phoenix, San Diego and El Paso, Texas, all have some of the lowest rates of violent crime compared to other cities throughout the United States. The numbers suggest that spillover violence is not as common as some believe, said Napolitano.

Napolitano also said she is committed to working with Congress in crafting reforms to immigration law. Many critics of the White House’s push for reform say more should be done to address border security before lawmakers look to revamp how immigrants can work in the country legally.

“President Obama is firm in his commitment to advancing comprehensive immigration reform, and I’m personally looking forward to working with Congress to move the ball forward,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported a record number of illegal immigrants over the past two fiscal years: more than 779,000.

“But most importantly, more than half of those we removed last year – upwards of 195,000 – were convicted criminals, the most ever removed from our country in a single year,” she said. “That's a more than 70 percent increase in removal of criminal immigrants from the previous administration.”

Last year, President Obama signed a $600 million supplemental request that added 1,000 new Border Patrol agents, 250 new ICE agents, two new forward operating bases along the border, and unmanned aircraft systems.

Obama also deployed 1,200 National Guard troops last year to aid area law enforcement agencies. Those local agencies have received an additional $123 million in federal money over the past two years to help reimburse increased costs, such as overtime hours.

“Taken as a whole, the additional manpower, technology and resources represent the most serious and sustained action to secure our border in our nation’s history,” Napolitano said. “And it is clear from every key measure that this approach is working.”

This post was updated at 3:01 p.m.