Napolitano Pushes For Greater Border Presence

Napolitano pushes for greater border presence

By Howard Fischer
The Capitol Media Services, January 8, 2009

Gov. Janet Napolitano said today the United States needs more than more Border Patrol officers to slow both illegal immigration and smuggling.

'You're never going to have enough boots on the ground if all you rely on is boots on the ground,'' Napolitano said in an interview with KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate.

'You've got to augment them with technology,'' said Napolitano, President-elect Barack Obama's choice for secretary of homeland security. 'And then, at some point, we need to, I think, revisit the issue of the National Guard and perhaps its role at the border.''

That decision, however, will not be within Napolitano's power. But the governor said she intends to talk to the defense secretary who does get to make that decision.

Building additional fences, however, is another matter.

'There is a role for it,'' she said. But she called it 'a hugely expensive effort that by itself will not deal with the immigration issue.''

Napolitano also said she believes in greater use of high-tech security to monitor the border, including radar and ground sensors.

Napolitano's confirmation hearings, set for next week, come as Michael Chertoff, the current homeland security chief, said this week he is crafting plans for a 'surge'' of civilian – and possibly military – law enforcement along the Mexican border if the violence from that country spills into the United States.

'You have to understand that there have been 5,300 murders in Mexico this year related to drugs,'' she said.

'We want to have that backup surge capacity to come in should it slop over into the United States,'' Napolitano said. One element of that, she said, is working closely with police agencies on both sides of the border.

The governor said Obama is scheduled to meet soon with Felipe Calderon, his Mexican counterpart, with border violence expected to be a key topic.

On a related front, Napolitano said she will take her arguments about the future of the Real ID to Washington.

The governor had been supportive of the 2005 federal law requiring states to develop driver's licenses that are secure, both from the perspective of ensuring that they are issued to the right person and that they be tamper proof. But Napolitano earlier this year signed legislation refusing to have Arizona participate because the federal government was leaving the financial burden to the states.

Napolitano said she will advocate for money in the new federal budget for states to implement some form of more secure identification.

'If we're going to have a system of laws that requires people to be able to demonstrate that they're lawfully present in the country, you need to have some way for people to easily demonstrate that,'' she said.

That also includes Arizona's own year-old law that makes it a crime for companies to knowingly hire undocumented workers. Firms found guilty can have their licenses to do business suspended; a second offense within three years puts them out of business.

While Napolitano signed that measure into state law, the governor, speaking to reporters after her TV interview, sidestepped questions of whether there should be a national version of that law.

The governor repeated her stance that she is a supporter of immigration reform. But she expressed skepticism that Obama and Congress will deal with that soon.

'Obviously right now the top priority is the economy and getting that going again,'' Napolitano said. 'But there will be room for some of these other issues at the right time.''

In the interim, the governor said she intends to keep enforcing existing immigration laws.

'I think that to enforce the law firmly and fairly people believe that an immigration law really can work,'' she said.