Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday said the administration has "enough" resources to secure the border now that President Obama signed into law a $600 million border security spending bill, and she said Congress must now act on a larger overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
"This is what we asked for. And of course, what we asked for was what we thought would be enough," Ms. Napolitano told reporters at the White House, hours after she joined Mr. Obama as he signed the bipartisan bill.
The law provides for 1,000 new U.S. Border Patrol agents, hundreds of border inspectors and interior enforcement personnel and two new aerial drones to patrol the remote Southwest.
Although it will take about eight months for the new agents to be hired and trained, Ms. Napolitano said the border is already secure enough that it should not be used by critics to "preclude discussions about immigration reform."
"Sometimes I hear 'securing the border' and the goalpost just keeps moving — well, we've done this," Ms. Napolitano said, echoing statements by Mr. Obama that it's now time for a comprehensive bill that would provide illegal immigrants a pathway to legalization.
But border-state lawmakers in both parties, while welcoming the additional resources, said it's not enough. On Thursday, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona Democrat, said Washington "still doesn’t truly understand the threats we face" in border states.
"I will keep saying it until they hear me – while this is a valuable first step towards protecting folks in the Southwest, it will take much more to make up for years of failed policies along the border," she said.
Mr. Obama earlier this year endorsed a general framework for a bill and made a speech calling for action, but he is leaving the details to Capitol Hill. He and other Democrats have said the ball is in Republicans' court, noting that several GOP lawmakers who were key to immigration reform in the past are now no longer supportive of a similar measure.
Those Republicans, including most notably Arizona Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, have said they do not yet believe the border is secure enough.
Both men sponsored the $600 million in funding Mr. Obama signed Friday, but they've asked for up to 6,000 National Guard Troops to be deployed to the border, and for more legal resources so that illegal border crossers can be jailed, rather than immediately sent back home, where many try again.
In the spring, days after the two senators made their call for National Guard troops, Mr. Obama announced he would send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. That deployment is underway.
But immigration continues to roil the political scene, with Arizona's tough new immigration law being a flashpoint. The law has the backing of a majority of Americans, but a federal judge in Phoenix halted some of the key provisions, arguing that the state was infringing on the federal government's authority.
Asked about her successor in Arizona, GOP Gov. Jan Brewer, Ms. Napolitano said the state's "factual premise" that the border area is more dangerous than before "was just wrong."
"The facts are the facts, and the facts are that there are more Border Patrol agents at the border than ever before, there's more infrastructure at the border than ever before, there's more technology at the border than ever before, there's more air cover at the border than ever before," she said, adding that a recent meeting between the two women in Boston was nevertheless "professional and cordial."
As for critics who accuse the Obama administration of not doing enough to erect security fencing along the border, Ms. Napolitano said the fence has been built out as far as it has been funded, save for six miles, and noted that the $600 million supplemental does not include new money for fences.
"The fence is only part of this [effort]," she said. "You show me a 15-foot fence and I'll show you a 16-foot ladder."
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