TUCSON — A couple of weeks after a bipartisan group of senators declared that securing the border was key to enacting immigration reform, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer reiterated her call to beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It’s pretty obvious that Arizona once again is a gateway for the drug cartels,” Brewer told a crowd of reporters at a news conference Tuesday. Moments earlier, she had stepped off a Black Hawk helicopter, culminating an aerial tour of the U.S.-Mexico border.
During her stay in the region, Brewer visited with ranchers living along the border and met Border Patrol agents and members of the U.S. National Guard. During her sky-high tour, Brewer said, she saw people staging to cross into the U.S., garbage littering the desert and spots of the border with little or no fencing.
As she has in the past, the governor called for “more boots on the ground,” drones and more technology.
Not everyone agrees that more Border Patrol agents are needed.
Border Patrol staffing along the southern Arizona border is “right-sized personnel-wise,” said Jeffrey D. Self, Border Patrol Joint Field Commander-Arizona.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in December, Self said there was more of a need for technology along the border, such as mobile surveillance systems, than more agents.
Brewer did not say how to define what constitutes a secure border. Instead, she said that would need to be determined by the people who live along the line separating the U.S. and Mexico.
Brewer’s news conference came hours before President Obama is expected to address Congress — and likely mention immigration reform — in his State of the Union speech.
Brewer has mentioned that she supports the proposal by a bipartisan group of senators that would make legalization of millions of people who are here illegally contingent on the federal government certifying that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have said the U.S.-Mexico border is more fortified and secure than in any time in history, pointing at declining numbers of apprehensions.
In Arizona, Border Patrol apprehensions in fiscal year 2012 dropped to 124,631 — the lowest level in 19 years, according to Customs and Border Protection data. That’s a drop of more than 40% in the last couple of years and more than 80% since the highest point in 2000.
At the same time, drug confiscations along the Tucson sector of the U.S.-Mexico border have increased.
Last month, Customs and Border Protection officials made what is believed to be the largest marijuana seizure in history at an Arizona border crossing. Agents at the Mariposa Cargo Facility in Nogales, Ariz., confiscated seven tons of marijuana — worth as much as $12 million, authorities said.
“Our border is open in regards to the drug cartels,” Brewer said Tuesday. “They are bringing drugs in at a larger number than ever.”