Arizona Dems contest Obama's assertions on border security

Anticipating a furor of voter criticism over the July Fourth recess, Democratic lawmakers from the border region shot back at the White House last week, challenging the president’s speech on immigration in which he said that the southern border is secure.

Arizona Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Harry Mitchell and Gabrielle Giffords joined a growing Republican chorus in denouncing President Barack Obama for not pushing for more specific action in his Thursday speech on the nation’s immigration and border security issues.

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Obama said that the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years. But the three Arizona Democrats disagreed.

“The crisis on America’s borders won’t be addressed with words,” said Giffords. “I was disappointed to hear the president give short shrift to border security concerns by saying that our nation’s southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years.

“That is not a sign of progress, it is a statement on the poor job we have done in securing the border for the past two decades.”

As their constituents continue to clamor that more must be done to secure the borders, the first- and second-term Arizona Democrats are increasingly bucking their own party’s stance on border security.

All three lawmakers have acknowledged the charged politics behind the border security and immigration debate. And though none of them are likely to lose their seats this November, their races have been listed as some of the most contentious in the region.

“As any politician knows, it is easier to make speeches than it is to make progress, and we need more than talk from the White House and Congress right now,” said Kirkpatrick.

The intra-party criticism comes as the House last week passed the fiscal year 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Bill, which includes $700 million in border security funds, including $50 million to deploy National Guard troops to the border states.

It also comes in the wake of recent FBI statistics that reveal instances of violent crime along the border to have gone down over the past year. And on Friday, Mexican officials announced that they had arrested two men in connection with the killing earlier this year of a U.S. consulate worker and her husband, according to the Associated Press.

Obama acknowledged this week that more must be done to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, but it should not be a one-pronged approach of militarization, he said. 

“There are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders,” said Obama. “But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.”

Republicans widely criticized Obama for using a politically charged rhetoric that lacked substantive suggestions to change the nation’s immigration policies.

Mitchell, too, sounded off on the White House following Obama’s speech, saying that both political parties have been guilty of posturing on the issue, yet the border is still not secure and the nation’s immigration system remains broken, especially in Arizona.

“Illegal immigration affects our state more than it does any other,” Mitchell said. “More than half of all illegal crossings over the U.S.-Mexico border happen in Arizona. The federal government has a responsibility to secure the border and fix our broken immigration system, but hasn't done so, and Arizona continues to shoulder the burden.”