One day after President Obama concluded a summit in Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that securing the Southwest border required targeting several issues at the same time: illegal immigration, drug trafficking and violence in Mexico.
Napolitano said her strategy was unlike the Bush administration's, in which "the issue of the Southwest border was walled off from all other issues."
"Our approach is to view Southwest border security along with enforcement of our immigration laws in the interior of the country, counter-narcotics enforcement and streamlined citizenship processes together," she said. "These things are inextricably linked."
Napolitano said the U.S. government is cooperating with the Mexican government more than ever to battle drug-related violence, citing efforts to stop the drugs flowing north and guns and cash flowing south.
"We have a unique opportunity now with Mexico to really break up these cartels," she said. "Shame on us if we don't take full advantage of that."
Napolitano also announced an additional $30 million in federal funds for local law enforcement in California and other border states to better fight trafficking and violence. Agencies in California will receive nearly $7.4 million. The money is in addition to $60 million announced in June.
Napolitano spoke during a two-day conference on border security, which brought together elected leaders from Mexico and the U.S., along with the heads of the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The conference took place in El Paso, just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, which has been at the center of the deadly drug wars.
Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said that the city has seen a recent reduction in violent crime but that another issue is exacerbating the violence: deportation of criminals and gang members over the border with no warning.
Napolitano responded that the U.S. government would do a better job of notifying law enforcement agencies in Mexico of pending deportations and would consider adjusting where deportees are sent.
During her speech, Napolitano said that much of the violence south of the border is a result of the Mexican government's aggressive campaign targeting the drug cartels. Although deaths continue in Mexico, she said the U.S. has been able to prevent much of the violence from spilling into the U.S.
This year, she said, the government has seized more than $69 million in cash, more than 2.4 million pounds of drugs and more than 500 assault rifles and handguns.
The mayors of San Diego and Tucson told Napolitano that crime was down in both of their cities.
Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar said the entire Southwest border is safer and more secure than in previous years, due in large part to increased personnel and technology, but he posed the question: "How do we now sustain that?"
John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counter-terrorism, also said the U.S. government is considering extending the Merida Initiative, which provides equipment and training to support Mexico's efforts to fight the drug cartels.
The federal government also announced Tuesday a new social networking site, ourborder.ning.com, as a way to promote dialogue on border and immigration issues.
During the conference, however, Napolitano did not discuss the progress of discussions with legislators on comprehensive immigration reform, other than to tell reporters that the conversation was underway and she was working to build support.
At the Mexican summit on Monday, Obama said that he expected to have draft immigration legislation by the end of the year but that passage of a bill would have to wait until 2010.
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista), who attended the conference, said he and others have been pushing for legislation but have been disappointed in the administration.
"We don't sense that Obama thinks it can happen now," he said. "And if he waits until next year, it won't happen."