The U.S. Border Patrol union says Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's comments reassuring Americans that the U.S. border with Mexico is safe and open for business are "wrong and give citizens a false sense of security."
"It is time for the political games to stop for fear of insulting the government of Mexico," the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) said in a statement. "U.S. citizens are being kidnapped and killed while our Border Patrol agents fight a war at home that no one will allow them to win.
"Not one more Border Patrol agent should fall or citizen be victimized because our government fails to act," said the NBPC, which represents all 17,500 non-supervisory U.S. Border Patrol agents. "Mexico is hemorrhaging violence, and we are being hit with the splatter."
Ms. Napolitano told border-area mayors and business leaders in El Paso, Texas, on Thursday that the U.S.-Mexico border is safer than ever, adding that perceptions that the border area is at its most dangerous right now are false.
She said that the Obama administration is dedicated to ensuring that the Southwest border remains open for business amid drug cartel violence in Mexico, and that increased security should not come at the price of trade, travel and tourism.
"The Obama administration has dedicated historic levels of manpower, technology and infrastructure to the Southwest border to ensure the safety of border communities, and these resources have made a significant impact," she said. "Some of America's safest communities are in the Southwest border region, with border city crime rates staying steady or dropping over the past decade."
But the NBPC said the violence that has occurred along the border in recent years shows that crime is spilling over from Mexico, noting that Border Patrol agents, ranchers and citizens have been killed, kidnapped, shot at and targeted, and that the Phoenix area has become a "cartel-related crime hotspot."
"If the border was better now than it ever has been, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry would not have been brutally murdered by heavily armed Mexican criminals operating over 13 miles inside the United States," the NBPC said. "In some countries, that is construed as an act of war, but here we get words not deeds when Napolitano terms events like this as evidence 'there is much to do with our colleagues in Mexico with respect to the drug cartels.' "
Terry, 40, was attempting to arrest bandits who prey on illegal immigrants when he was killed Dec. 14 during a gunfight on the U.S. side of the border near Rio Rico, Ariz., 60 miles south of Tucson. The agent was waiting with three other agents in a remote area north of Nogales when the gunbattle erupted. None of the other agents was injured, but one of the suspects was wounded.
A former Marine, Terry was a four-year veteran of the agency and a member of the Border Patrol's elite Search, Trauma and Rescue team. He was struck in the pelvis by a round fired by a suspect armed with an AK-47.
The shooting is being investigated by the FBI and the Santa Cruz County, Ariz., Sheriff's Office. Bandits, usually Mexican nationals, have long roamed border areas, robbing and sexually assaulting illegal immigrants as they cross into the U.S.
Terry was the third Border Patrol agent killed in the line of duty over the past three years. Agent Robert W. Rosas Jr., was killed July 23, 2009, while on patrol near Campo, Calif., and Agent Luis A. Aguilar was killed Jan. 19, 2008, when he was intentionally struck by the driver of a vehicle that he was attempting to stop.
For more than two years, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have been warning that the dramatic rise in violence along the southwest border could spread and eventually target U.S. citizens. The violence posed what the officials called a "serious threat" to law enforcement officers, first responders and residents along the 1,951-mile border.
Ms. Napolitano said the security of the border communities "strengthens the prosperity of the region."
"We all agree that the challenges at the border are real - but so is the progress we've made over the last two years," she said. "I'm proud to join with our border communities in spreading the word that the Southwest border is, indeed, open for business."
But the NBPC, in its statement, said, "The U.S.-Mexico border is unsafe, and to say anything else is not true."
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