Napolitano invites congressional leadership to visit U.S.-Mexico border

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has invited members of the House and Senate leadership to visit the U.S.-Mexico border and see the White House’s latest efforts to curtail drug and weapon smuggling and illegal immigration.

Napolitano said the trip, proposed for some time this the spring, would allow the lawmakers to see for themselves the increased levels of security and safety that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has created along the southwest border.

Lawmakers and local politicians in the southwest border region have criticized Napolitano and President Obama over the past two years for not doing enough to secure the border, saying that the uptick in Mexican drug cartel violence is trickling into the U.S.

But Napolitano says the border is the safest it has been in recent years. And the former Arizona governor defended the steps the administration has taken, saying that the confiscation of illegal goods increased across the board in the last fiscal year as compared to the previous year.

“Despite these facts, the situation on the border continues to be mischaracterized, and I am concerned that this is hurting the morale of our law enforcement personnel and the local economies of border towns,” said Napolitano in her letter. “To be sure, challenges remain, and it is my hope that we can work together on a nonpartisan basis to address remaining challenges.”

The letter, obtained by The Hill, was sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDems search for winning playbook Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response The Memo: Immigration battle tests activists’ muscle MORE (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump: If there's no wall, there's no DACA fix Schumer: Democrats 'cut the best deal we could' Dems sour on shutdown tactics MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Majority Leader Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDems sour on shutdown tactics Senate faces difficult path to immigration deal House Dems furious with Senate leaders MORE (D-Ill.), Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerGOP sees omens of a Dem wave in Wisconsin Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks MORE (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorRaúl Labrador, a model for Hispanic politicians reaching higher Eric Cantor: Moore ‘deserves to lose’ If we want to make immigration great again, let's make it bipartisan MORE (R-Va.), and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Napolitano outlined some of the latest pushes by DHS along the border, saying that Illegal currency seizures rose by $73 million – a 35 percent increase – while illegal drug seizures rose by more than 1 million pounds – a nearly 20 percent increase – and U.S. authorities seized 1,500 more illegal weapons – a nearly 30 percent increase, said Napolitano.

Over the past six weeks Napolitano has increasingly promoted DHS’s accomplishments along the border. Speaking at the University of Texas at El Paso last week, Napolitano said that public officials who argue otherwise do so to “score political points.”

Last year, as violence in Mexico rose to unprecedented levels, Obama sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and approved $600 million in funding for 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents and 250 new Customs and Border Protection agents.

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.