Secretary Napolitano's Remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: Securing the Border: A Smarter Law Enforcement Approach

By:  Janet Napolitano
Date: June 24, 2010
Location: Washington, D.C.

Well, thank you, and it is a pleasure to be here. And thank you to the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the CSIS for hosting this event today. One addition I think I would make to the program is that after I sit down and before questions, I think we'll introduce the other panelists, who come from really the direct, hands-on, front-line responsibilities in the areas that I'm going to speak about.

I want to especially thank John Morton, the Assistant Secretary for ICE, and David Aguilar from CPB. They are here today as well as the Director of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, who is expert in this area and a very effective advocate for smart and effective law enforcement. Thank you, Gil.

And I'm also happy to welcome Rob Davis, the President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a great community leader in the city of San Jose, really doing some important and novel things with the police department there. Indeed, the Major Cities Chiefs Association has been a great partner with the Department of Homeland Security. We are proud to be able to support the 56 big city police chiefs that you represent, and to support the more than 800,000 sworn officers that are present in those departments. So thank you, Chief.

Before I open it up for discussion, I'd like to speak about some of the immigration and border-related challenges that law enforcement faces. First, let me begin by saying that border security and enforcement is primarily the responsibility of the federal government. And unfortunately, for decades we have not had an effective strategy that is border-wide. We've not devoted the attention, personnel, and resources that have been required to cover the border all the way from Brownsville to San Diego.

Now, from day one, the Obama administration has taken its responsibility here seriously, and has developed and implemented a clear strategy to obtain that personnel, those resources, that equipment and technology that's truly required for the federal government to meet its responsibility along our nation's border. So today I want to discuss our strategy, and the strong and smart measures that DHS has already taken to improve enforcement, both at the border and within the interior of the country. I'd like to detail what progress we've made and the next steps that we are taking.

Now, let's begin with the current challenges. Our Southwest border states have endured more than their share of challenges, and I know this from personal experience, having worked directly on border issues since 1993, first as the United States Attorney for Arizona, then as the Arizona Attorney General, then as the Governor of Arizona, and now, of course, as Secretary of Homeland Security.

I was actually raised in another border state, New Mexico. So I have spent almost all of my life along that Southwest border. I have walked it. I have driven it. I have flown it. I have even ridden it on horseback. This is a border that I know extremely well, and I share the frustration that border communities feel about the challenges that exist in that region, as shown by the cartel-related violence in Mexico and the tragic murder of Rob Krentz in Cochise County, Arizona just a few months ago.

You do not need to live along the border to feel that frustration. All across the country, in every region, every city and town, Americans want the federal government doing everything it can to secure our borders and to enforce our immigration laws smartly and effectively. No one is happy with the status quo. I'm certainly not, and neither is the President.

But as someone who has seen and heard just about every idea, slogan, and political theory about the border and immigration enforcement over the past 20 years, I can tell you that this administration has pursued a broad new enforcement and security strategy with a greater urgency and care than anything I have seen since I began my career in public service. And the strategy is showing real progress. Let me point to a few reasons why.

First, we have dispensed with the rhetoric, and we've just gotten to work. Now, for too long we heard bumper sticker slogans about being tough. But looking tough just doesn't get the job done. We decided that we needed to add some smarts to toughness, and to make some changes to build a coordinated and comprehensive strategy that included CBP, ICE, the Department of Justice family, and our state and local partners. The statistics today reflect that this approach is working, and I'll get to a few of those in a minute.

But second and most important reason we are seeing progress is because of the men and women working on the front line each day. And I'd like to pause on this for just a moment.

We know that law enforcement in border states and throughout the country face a tall order when it comes to border-related crime and smuggling. The men and women who wear a badge and put themselves in harm's way each day do it because they, like each of us, want to do the right thing for our country, and they want to make a real difference. We count on them for this, and they perform their duties with a professionalism and skill that goes above and beyond every single day. They depend on us for our support and for a tough and smart federal enforcement strategy. We owe them nothing less. We are giving them nothing less. And I will continue to do so as long as the President and I and everyone else on this dais hold these positions.

We also know there are thousands and thousands of businesses around the country that are trying to follow the law and hire a legal workforce. These are small businesses, farmers, food growers, producers, and ranchers that are the backbone of our economy. They, like our men and women in law enforcement, must have our full support. They deserve nothing less than a regime that cracks down swiftly on businesses that knowingly hire illegal workers to gain an unfair workplace advantage.

To our partners in the business community who are doing the right thing, I say, we are with you. The government has stepped up our efforts through I-9 audits and intelligent workplace enforcement to level the playing field. We will not yield in this arena because we all have a role to play. Businesses have a role, state and local law enforcement have a role, and of course, as I started out, the biggest responsibility rests with the federal government. It's a responsibility we take seriously, it's why we have taken the steps we have already taken, and it's why we are committed to doing even more, and are constantly looking for ways to improve our federal enforcement policy.

So let me start with a status update on the smart, effective approach we've been taking over the past 18 months. The personnel we've deployed, the technology and resources we've invested, the states we are helping through better information-sharing and increased grant funding, it's a very different picture now than it was before.

Now, you might not get this impression from those looking to score political points by saying that border and immigration enforcement are spinning out of control. And I say the numbers tell the story, and they do not lie. The Border Patrol is better staffed and more strategically deployed today than ever before. Since 2004, the number of agents has risen. It has actually doubled from about 10,000 to 20,000 today, actually a little more than 20,000. We've deployed more U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel than ever before to work strategically on investigations, intelligence, and inter-agency task forces to combat smuggling and human trafficking.

We've also deployed more technology than ever to detect smugglers and their cargo. More airplanes, more helicopters, more unmanned aerial vehicles are working the border than ever before. And for the first time, DHS is screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons, drugs, and cash. In terms of infrastructure, the 652 miles of fencing that Congress asked Homeland Security to build is nearly complete. The remaining six miles are expected by the end of the year.

The federal government is also collaborating with state and local law enforcement along the border more closely than ever before. And recognize, I was in state and local law enforcement before I moved to Washington, D.C. a year and a half ago. We are leveraging the resources and capabilities of over 50 law enforcement agencies to deter, deny, and disrupt transnational criminal organizations. And we've increased the funding for state and local law enforcement that they can use to combat border-related crime through Operation Stonegarden.

On top of all of this, the administration has partnered with the government of Mexico in ways that are simply unprecedented. We're conducting more operations together, sharing more information, and putting pressure on the Mexican drug trafficking organizations that run smuggling operations into virtually every community in the United States.

These efforts have produced results. Apprehensions of illegal crossers, the best indication of how many are crossing, are at a fraction of their all-time high. They were down 23 percent last year from the year before. Last year, seizures of cartel-related contraband rose significantly across the board. We seized 14 percent more illegal bulk cash, 29 percent more illegal weapons, and 15 percent more illegal drugs than the year before.

And these kinds of numbers tell the story about our strategy. We are focusing our energy on the most dangerous threats to communities. So the numbers of apprehensions and removals are beginning to reflect this strategy. In short, we are doing a number of things, and we are also removing a record number of criminals from our country.

By all measurable standards, crime levels in United States border towns have actually remained flat or have dropped. We've also made important changes to the way that we conduct interior enforcement. We're doing it in a way that is smarter and more effective than before. We've strengthened oversight across the board, fostering consistency in immigration enforcement and clearly prioritizing enforcement against convicted criminal aliens who pose the most danger to our communities.

We've expanded the Secure Communities program, which uses biometric information to identify and remove criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails. Since it began in October of 2008, it has identified almost 35,000 aliens charged with or convicted of the most serious, violent, or major drug offenses. Over eighty-five hundred of the most serious convicted criminal aliens have been removed from United States through Secure Communities.

We've changed the way, as I mentioned, we approach worksite enforcement, moving away from raids that emphasize the number of workers arrested and focusing instead on the employers who exploit undocumented workers or commit criminal offenses,. Already this year, we have arrested more than 100 employers.

We've refocused our fugitive operations, prioritizing criminal fugitives. As a result, whereas in fiscal year 2008, only a quarter of all fugitives arrested were convicted criminals in fiscal year 2010, much closer to one-half of the fugitives arrested are convicted criminals.

We have also expanded E-Verify, which continues to grow by roughly 1,000 employers each week. We have made it more accurate, cracking down on identify fraud and abuse. Our goal for this system is that it be effective, convenient for employers, and accurate, so that employers have a reliable system, and those who are here legally won't be inconvenienced or denied a job because of flawed or incorrect data.

So in addition to the positive results we have achieved from our border security strategy, our interior enforcement efforts have also shown positive results. So far this year, ICE has removed more than 117,000 aliens convicted of crimes, 37 percent more than during the same time frame last year. Indeed, of all the aliens removed so far in fiscal year 2010, as I said before, half are convicted criminals. And in fiscal year 2009, ICE conducted more than fourteen hundred I-9 audits of employers suspected of hiring illegal labor, triple the number as the previous year.

So while we've taken unprecedented actions to increase border security and improve interior enforcement, we are not satisfied. There is more work to do. That is why - and that's what I'd like to move to now - the new measures that we need to take. That's why President Obama has recently requested $500 million more to bolster law enforcement and security along the Southwest border, and will deploy twelve hundred National Guard troops to assist the ongoing efforts to secure the border and combat the cartels. These are commonsense measures to strengthen and expand efforts that have already proven successful. And today, I'd like to announce several new steps in our enforcement efforts.

The first is a new partnership with the Major Cities Chiefs Association to create a Southwest Border Law Enforcement Compact. This will boost law enforcement at the border, by creating a mechanism, a way for state and local law enforcement agencies that aren't on the border to detail officers to state and local law enforcement agencies who are on the border.

We're also creating a system that will fully interlink the information systems of all state, local, and tribal law enforcement entities, operating along the Southwest border, with those of DHS and of DOJ. This will make sure that officers on the front line have the best information we can give them and that they can share what they learn back up the chain.

We're also establishing a suspicious activities reporting, or SARS program, for the Southwest border. This will help local officers recognize and track incidents related to criminal activity by drug traffickers and utilize this information for targeted law enforcement operations on both sides of the border.

Next, we're strengthening the analytic capability of the state and major urban area fusion centers along the Southwest border, so that they are better able to receive and share threat information, improving our ability to recognize and mitigate emerging threats.

Next, we're partnering with the Office of National Drug Control Policy to implement Project Roadrunner, an automated license plate recognition system. Project Roadrunner was conceived to target both north and south-bound drug trafficking and associated illegal activity along the Southwest border.

We're focusing on money laundering and bulk cash smuggling operations in transportation corridors along the Southwest border and targeting hot spots through roadside interdiction surges. For that region, I have now ordered the deployment of additional border patrol agents, ICE investigators, AIR Assets, and other technologies to the Arizona border, to conduct targeted operations against the cartels that exploit this part of the border, specifically around the Tucson sector.

We're also expanding the illegal drug program to additional Southwest border ports of entry so drug traffickers, whose trafficking activity can be tied to Mexico, are returned to Mexico to face prosecution by Mexican authorities.

We're also expanding the Joint Criminal Alien Removal Task Forces. These are comprised of ICE agents and local law enforcement, and they identify and arrest convicted criminal aliens who are living in our communities.

Now this also involves deploying surge teams to work with state and local jails that are within 100 miles of the Southwest border to ensure the identification of all removable convicted criminal aliens detained in those jails, who, if released, would pose a danger to public safety.

I'm also proud to announce today that the Federal Aviation Administration has approved the use of CBP Unmanned Aircraft System flights along the Texas border and in the Gulf region. CBP plans to base an unmanned aircraft system or UAS at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station as soon as all necessary arrangements are finalized to sustain a permanent UAS presence there.

These types of flights aren't useful everywhere, but in some places they're part of the right mix of infrastructure, manpower, and technology that improves border security. This is the case for parts of the Texas border, and we plan to move forward with using this technology there.

And finally, we're increasing joint training programs with Mexican law enforcement, focusing on money laundering organizations, investigations, and human trafficking and exploitation organizations.

I'd like to conclude on a point that I think bears repeating. There is a clear federal responsibility here, and this Administration has taken this responsibility serious from the very start. We're attacking the challenges the border brings, and we're doing so in ways that are smart and tough and strategic. The policies and resources we have put in place at the border and in the interior constitute the most serious and thorough immigration and border-related effort ever. There is no magic bullet here, but we are addressing the problem in ways that are smart and unprecedented.

Now securing our border requires constant pressure. And maximizing our efforts, especially against traffickers and criminals, will require more than just federal, state, and local resources. It will also require Congress working across party lines to enact changes to our immigration laws, so that we have a comprehensive set of reforms that meet the needs of our country. And this Administration is committed to taking that step.

It's not just enough to address just one part of our broken immigration system without addressing the rest. For too long, all we've heard in this debate is tough talk without the smart comprehensive steps we need to truly fix the immigration system. The immigration debate is about accountability. It's about meeting fundamental responsibilities. And as I mentioned earlier, the federal government needs to meet its responsibility to secure our borders.

Employers who game the system and hire undocumented workers need to be held accountable. And yes, illegal immigrants also need to be held accountable by requiring them to register, get right with the law, pay their taxes, learn English, before they can ever get in line to earn American citizenship. Each of these components is related, and that's why we need a single, functional immigration and border policy. We cannot have 50 different state policies. It simply will not work.

Now too often, politicians' bumper sticker slogans are presented as real solutions. They are not. The American public knows better, and can be assured that this Administration and the Department of Homeland Security will continue to take every action needed to secure the border and pursue real immigration reform.

And with that, and with that assurance, I'm happy to open up the floor, along with Assistant Secretary Morton; Deputy Commissioner Aguilar; Director Kerlikowske; Major Cities Chiefs President Rob Davis, to talk about this subject of such importance to the American people.

Thank you very much.