Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday the federal government will create a program to let state and local police in non-border states rotate down to the border to help local authorities go after smugglers along the U.S.-Mexico line.
Taking aim at what she called “bumper sticker” get-tough slogans, she reasserted that the federal government, not states, should be in charge of enforcing immigration laws.
The former Arizona governor also said the Obama administration has made huge strides on security, though she said the border still can be more secure and said administration officials are in the middle of “surging” more boots on the ground.
“We are not satisfied. There is more work to do,” Miss Napolitano said in a policy speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, though she also urged Congress to act on a bill to legalize illegal immigrants.
Since taking office last year, Miss Napolitano has tried to walk a difficult line, arguing on the one hand enough has been done on the border that Congress can work on legalization, but also acknowledging the border isn’t secure and needs more help.
On Wednesday, she said the administration will expand its efforts to remove illegal aliens with criminal records and will foster better information-sharing among law enforcement to help border enforcement.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona Democrat, said the steps are welcome, but not enough.
“These initiatives are no substitute for a long-term strategy to secure the border,” she said. “The federal government has neglected its duties for years, and it is going to take a substantial and sustained effort to make up for its decades of inaction.”
After coming into office promising a change from the Bush administration, President Obama’s border-enforcement plan is coming together in bits and pieces, and often seems to be a reaction to political pressure or flare-ups of border violence.
Nearly a month ago, Mr. Obama announced he would deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border and would request $500 million from Congress to boost law enforcement personnel and infrastructure there, too.
But as of this week, no plan for the Guard deployment has been submitted and it wasn’t until Tuesday that the president sent details of his $500 million request to Congress.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving ahead of the president to force a bigger surge of troops. The Senate’s version of the annual defense policy bill calls for 6,000 National Guard troops to be sent to the border.
Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration limits, said the problem for the administration is that voters aren’t certain the administration has a deep enough commitment.
“Is it still easy to cross the border in lots of areas? The answer is yes. Do we have control over the border? The answer is no,” Mr. Camarota said. “What is clear is the public continues to believe we’ve done nowhere near enough to deter illegal immigration.”
The last time Congress tried to pass a broad legalization bill in 2007, it was blocked when a majority of senators joined a bipartisan filibuster.
President George W. Bush and Senate backers of the bill said they had failed to convince Americans the border would be secure, and said that must happen before Congress tried again.
Asked Wednesday when the border might finally be secure, Miss Napolitano did not answer directly, instead saying officials will never completely “seal” the border from all activity, including trade.
“The notion that you’re going to somehow seal the border and only at that point are you going to discuss immigration reform — that is not an answer,” she said.