Border chief denies agents turn blind eye to illegal immigrants

Comments made last week by an Arizona sheriff that federal authorities were deliberately not apprehending illegal aliens to bring official counts down are “false” and “offensive” and undermine border security, according to the chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever said last week in an interview with FoxNews.com that a U.S. Border Patrol official told him that agents had been instructed not to apprehend illegal immigrants crossing the border during certain periods when data were being collected, in an attempt to drive down the federally reported numbers.

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Dever said agents were told to “chase people away” and “scare people back” across the border, according to the interview.

But in a letter obtained by The Hill on Tuesday, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher called those allegations “completely, 100 percent false” and “offensive.”

Fisher said that Dever’s comments could spur more illegal immigrants to try and cross into the U.S.

“Law enforcement and border security decisions made at the operational level require the apprehension and arrest of every illegal border-crosser,” Fisher said in the letter, dated April 4. “Your unwarranted allegation to the contrary is just wrong. It only serves to encourage those who are planning to enter this country illegally to continue to try to do so, with obvious damage to border security.”
 
Fisher offered to take Dever on a “ride-along” with Border Patrol agents to inspect the border and “gain a firsthand appreciation of their daily duty.”

A spokeswoman for Dever did not immediately return a request for comment.

Dever was set to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday — along with a Texas judge and three other sheriffs from counties along the border in California, New Mexico and Arizona — to give senators an update on the state of border affairs.

But according to a congressional aide, Dever is no longer planning to appear as a witness, citing a scheduling difficulty. He may still submit testimony for the record.

Dever told FoxNews.com that he was planning to swear under oath to the committee and testify to what he says border officials had instructed him to do.

Dever has long criticized the Obama administration for its response to the levels of violence and illegal trafficking along the country’s southern border.
 
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the former Arizona governor who has received much of Dever’s criticism, has been traveling across the country recently, touting the successes of her agency’s fight to decrease the number of illegal people, guns, drugs and cash coming into the country.

Napolitano and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke declared Monday that the border was “open for business” in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. Two weeks ago, Napolitano delivered the same message to a crowd in El Paso, Texas.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Napolitano blasted critics and said that she has spoken with citizens of border communities who have told her they see a positive shift in security in the area.

“When you speak with people who live in the border — you know, not those that are volunteering themselves for the cameras, but others — they'll tell you that they know the change,” she said. “They see the change. They feel the change. And they know that this is a key priority for this administration. And we will sustain this change and this progress over the next years.”

Over the past year, President Obama and Congress have heavily increased funding and manpower along the southwest border. In August, Obama signed a $600 million measure to hire 1,500 additional Border Patrol agents and law enforcement personnel for border duty.

Obama also authorized 1,200 National Guard troops to be sent to the region to provide material and operational support for law enforcement officials already in place.

Those troops are set to return home in June, causing several Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee to call for an extension of their mission. One lawmaker has called for the deployment of active-duty troops in the area.

More than 34,000 people have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against the country’s heavily armed drug cartels four years ago. U.S. law enforcement efforts have been aimed at deterring that violence from crossing into the U.S.

This article was updated at 10 p.m.