Napolitano: Those Who Say Border Is Out of Control Are Trying to Score Political Points

By Susan Jones | February 1, 2011 | 7:30 AM EST

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered the first annual "State of America's Homeland Security" address on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011, at The George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

( - The Obama administration's approach to U.S.-Mexico border security "is working," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Monday, and anyone who suggests otherwise is “misstating the facts and unfairly politicizing border issues.”

Speaking at the University of Texas at El Paso, Napolitano hailed the administration's Southwest Border Initiative for strengthening the border "in a way that many would not have thought possible." She also described in detail the administration's "smart and effective approach" to enforcing immigration laws throughout the country.

At the same time, Napolitano admitted the administration is "deeply concerned" about the violent Mexican drug cartels that are trying to undermine the rule of law in northern Mexico.

“So today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border. You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you.”

While the U.S. "must guard against spillover effects into the United States," Napolitano said it "is inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border is overrun with violence and out of control.

"This statement—often made only to score political points—is just plain wrong," Napolitano said. "Not only does it ignore all of the statistical evidence, it also belittles the significant progress that effective law enforcement has made to protect this border and the people who live alongside it."

Napolitano’s comments follow criticism from Arizona's Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who was named Sheriff of the Year last week by the National Sheriff's Association.

In a telephone interview with on Friday, Babeu said Napolitano – with her upbeat assessments of border security – is “divorced from reality.”

“Why does she keep trying to convince us through argument that everything is just fine to the point that she’s trying to hypnotize us into believing this crap?” Babeu asked.

In honoring Babeau, the National Sheriffs’ Association noted that he has earned both statewide and national attention for his strong stance against illegal immigration. (See story)

'Stick with the facts'

In her speech on Monday, Napolitano seemed to address Babeu and his supporters directly:

“We need to be up front and clear about what’s really happening along our borders. Our border communities are safe,” Napolitano said.

She noted that Border Patrol apprehensions – which she called a key indicator of illegal immigration – have decreased 36 percent in the past two years.

Moreover, she said violent crime in border communities, including El Paso, has “remained flat or fallen” in the past ten years. Some of the “safest communities in America are right here at the border,” Napolitano said.

“Let me add some additional perspective. Imagine if the sheriff of a large county – representing millions of residents from big cities and rural communities – told you that he was able to reduce crime, as measured by apprehension statistics, by 36 percent. You’d probably ask how he did it. Then you’d tell him to keep up the good work.”

Napolitano said critics should “stick with the facts and numbers when we talk about where we are at the Southwest border.”

“We need to be honest with the people we serve about what is and what isn’t happening in our border communities. As I’ve said, we know challenges remain, but significant progress has been made. And that is echoed by leaders in local communities.”

The United States does not have the resources to remove everyone who is in the country illegally, Napolitano admitted. So – “like any good prosecutor’s office or law enforcement organization, we set priorities and focus on those who present the biggest danger to communities.”

She also defined the term border security: “A secure border does not mean a sealed border with no commerce; it does not mean a border without challenges. When you have a two-thousand-mile border encompassing some of our country’s most rugged terrain, there will always be challenges,” she said. “Just as no major city or town will ever eliminate all crime, neither will we be able to resolve every issue, every time, all at once, along the border.”

Although some people continue risking their lives to sneak into the country, that doesn’t mean that U.S. border communities are “out of control,” or overrun with violence, Napolitano said. The numbers don’t lie -- and the numbers are moving in the right direction, she added.

'Dishonoring  heroes'

Napolitano applauded the service of Border Patrol agents who “put their lives on the line” every day. She mentioned that she had attended the funeral of a Border Patrol agent killed in the line of duty in December.

“That’s why none of us can stand silent when the public dialogue dishonors the memory and the service of these heroes by misstating the facts and unfairly politicizing border issues,” she said.

She called for unity and working together to solve problems. She also called on Congress to take up immigration reform. “I’m personally looking forward to working with Congress to move the ball forward,” Napolitano said.