Arizona Sheriff Questions Napolitano’s Claim That Border Is More Secure Than Ever

April 5, 2011 - 11:49 AM

Larry Dever

Sheriff Larry Dever told CNSNews.com that if President Barack Obama visited Cochise County in Arizona he would show him evidence of a porous border and the gravesite of an American rancher who was gunned down on his property by what law enforcement believe was a Mexican drug cartel operative. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - Do fewer apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border really reflect a lower number of illegal crossings?  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says yes, but an Arizona sheriff says no.

Republican Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County, which lies on the Arizona-Mexico border, told Fox News on April 1 that border apprehension numbers fail to tell the real story of what is happening on the southwest border.

“We do not know who’s crossing that border,” Dever said, adding that “anyone who wants to, can. That’s the message our nation needs to hear -- that anyone who wants to (cross the border) can, and is. And our own Department of Homeland Security does not have a clear definition of what securing the border even means.”

Dever said people are “disgusted” and even frightened: “I’ll tell Napolitano, in spite of all of your declarations and efforts to the contrary, things are not safe. No, they are not secure. You can use your numbers to say it’s more secure, but it does not define a sense of safety or well-being. You can say it’s more secure, but it’s more dangerous than ever.”

Napolitano, speaking in Washington, D.C., last Friday, said President Obama’s border security approach is working:

“Taken as a whole, when you add them all up, it is the biggest surge of manpower and technology to the southwest border ever, and it represents the most serious and sustained action to secure that border in our nation’s history and every key metric shows that that approach is working.” 

“Border patrol apprehensions, which is an indicator of how many people are trying to cross illegally, [was] down at least 36 percent in two years,” she said. “Name me one major American city that has had that kind of decrease in crime rate in the last two years.”

“Seizures of contraband are up in all categories, illegal drugs, illegal bulk case, illegal weapons, all substantially up. And as I said before, violent crime in our border communities has actually remained flat or actually fallen,” Napolitano said.

According to Dever, a senior supervisor with the U.S. Border Patrol has told him that the agency’s office in Arizona has been told to reduce the number of arrests for illegal border crossings during certain reporting periods.

“The senior supervisor agent is telling me about how their mission is now to scare people back,” Dever told FoxNews.com. “He said, ‘I had to go back to my guys and tell them not to catch anybody, that their job is to chase people away' … They were not to catch anyone, arrest anyone. Their job was to…intimidate people, to get them to go back.”

But a Customs and Border Patrol commander “vigorously” denied Sheriff Dever’s allegations that Border Patrol agents in Arizona have been told to reduce the arrests of individuals trying to cross the border illegally.

“The claim that Border Patrol supervisors have been instructed to underreport or manipulate our statistics is unequivocally false,” Jeffery Self, commander of the CBP Joint Field Command in Arizona, told Fox News.

“I took an oath that I take very seriously, and I find it insulting that anyone, especially a fellow law enforcement officer, would imply that we would put the protection of the American public and security of our nation’s borders in danger just for a numbers game," added the commander. "Our mission does not waiver based on political climate, and it never will. To suggest that we are ambiguous in enforcing our laws belittles the work of more than 6,000 CBP employees in Arizona who dedicate their lives to protect our borders every day.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, has questioned whether the number of border apprehensions is an accurate indicator of the number of illegal crossings taking place. On federal lands, which make up about 43 percent (820 miles) of the approximately 2,000 miles U.S.-Mexico border, the number of illegal crossings was three times the number of apprehensions in 2009, the GAO reported.

“Over the last 3 years, apprehensions on federal lands have not kept pace with Border Patrol estimates of the number of illegal entries, indicating that the threat to federal lands may be increasing,” the GAO said.

Despite the GAO’s assessment, Napolitano maintains that it is “plain wrong” to say the border is “out of control,” and added that those who say that are just trying to gain political points and are hurting business along border communities.