ABC News' Devin Dwyer reports:
An animated Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today said the need to intensify efforts to secure the southwest border should not be a precondition for progress on comprehensive immigration reform.
She made the comments after at least one Senate Republican suggested the White House was holding off on implementing stronger enforcement measures so that they could be a bargaining chip to lure Republicans to the table.
"The notion that you’re going to somehow seal the border and only at that point will you discuss immigration reform – that is not an answer to the problem,” she said.
“The border is as secure now as it’s ever been, but we know we can always do more and that will always be the case,” she said. “It’s a big border. It is 1,960 miles across that southwest border. It’s some of the roughest toughest geographical terrain in the world across that border… You’re never going to totally seal the border.”
Napolitano strongly defended the administration’s record on policing the border, saying the agency has “attacked” immigration and crime challenges there and in the interior in an “unprecedented” way. But she said enforcement alone will not solve the system’s problems.
“There is no silver bullet” to solving the broken immigration system, Napolitano said. “It will require Congress to enact changes… We cannot have 50 different state policies,” she added, referring to Arizona’s new immigration law, which faces a legal challenge from the administration ahead of its scheduled implementation on July 29.
Late last week, Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl said the administration was deliberately “holding hostage” additional enforcement measures “unless and until it is combined with comprehensive immigration reform.” The White House has rejected the accusation.
The Department of Homeland Security currently has deployed a record number of Border Patrol agents and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The agency now screens 100 percent of all southbound rail shipments for drugs, weapons and other illicit contraband, and it is slated to complete construction by the end of the year of the last six miles of border fence authorized by Congress.
Last month President Obama also requested $500 million in emergency supplemental funds from Congress for enhanced border security and authorized deployment of up to 1,200 National Guard troops along the southwest border.
Napolitano said the agency will soon launch handful of new initiatives, including new intelligence sharing partnerships between state and federal law enforcement groups, drone surveillance technologies, and bilateral agreements with the Mexican government.
“The border is as secure now as ever before,” she said. “The numbers tell the story and they do not lie."
– Devin Dwyer