McCain calls for increasing security after border agent is killed in Mexico

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday pressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to tighten security along the southwestern border in the wake of an attack by a drug cartel in Mexico that killed a federal agent and wounded another.

“I am convinced, tragically, that if the status quo remains, that violence will continue to spill over onto our side of the border,” said McCain as he called for increased security measures.

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McCain’s push came as lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee peppered Napolitano with questions about the effects of the president’s fiscal 2012 budget on the safety of the country and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, said DHS has done an unprecedented job of securing the border and that seizures of illegal cash, drugs and weapons, as well as dealing with undocumented immigrants, were all increasing. But, she said, the numbers had not improved fast enough in the Tucson sector, one of the most highly trafficked areas of Arizona.

Napolitano said that is why President Obama’s budget focuses heavily on increasing resources to that region of the border. Obama has requested $43.2 billion for homeland security, an increase of $300 million from last year.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) applauded the budget, calling it “fair and responsible.” Though he wanted more funding in it, Lieberman said he understood the fiscal challenge the president faced.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the panel’s ranking member, said she was disappointed in Obama’s overall budget. She said she was troubled by the decision to cut grants for state and local first responders, as well as area fire departments, while moving the focus of grant funding from the U.S.-Canada border areas to the southern border.

Both Lieberman and Collins said the attacks on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in Mexico earlier this week were a reminder of why DHS should be adequately funded.

Napolitano agreed, saying that DHS was able to trim $800 million from its budget from administrative costs alone, including $450 million from consulting contracts and printing and travel expenses. That money, she said, has been redirected toward improving aviation, border and maritime security measures.