Cornyn Questions Janet Napolitano on Border Security

Today, I questioned U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the Administration’s efforts to secure our southwestern border during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Below is video and the transcript from this morning’s hearing.

Cornyn: According to the Government Accountability Office, last fiscal year, 2010, there were 445,000 individuals detained at the southwest border. The Government Accountability Office points out that of the 2,000 miles along the southern border, that 1,120 of those miles were not yet under operational control by the federal government. And of the 873 miles that were under quote Operational Control, they differentiated between controlled at 15% of that 873, and 85% which they call Manage, which means that basically they are in a position to try to detect and detain illegal aliens within a hundred miles of the border. I raise that issue because you made the statement, I believe, earlier that you think the Administration’s approach is working when it comes to border security, and you can correct me if I’m wrong. I would just give you one other bit of data, and that is from the Border Patrol. The apprehensions during fiscal year 2009 up to April 30th, 2010: that out of the 445,000 of the individuals detained at our southwestern border, there were 45,000 detained coming from a total of 140 different countries. In other words, these are not just individuals coming from Mexico…
Napolitano: The category known as “Other Than Mexico.”
Cornyn: That’s correct. I noted in looking at these statistics, and these numbers which I will in a moment ask to be made part of the record, that at least 4 countries are represented on this list of 140 countries that have been designated by the U.S. Department of State as State-sponsors of terrorism. How can you possibly claim that the approach of the Administration is working when it comes to border security, in light of these statistics?
Napolitano: Well, I think that you have to look at the entire picture, Senator. You have to understand first of all that Operational Control is a term of art by the Border Patrol, it doesn’t include all of the assets that are being deployed to the border - the technology and so forth. And you also have to look at all of the numbers, and while our efforts need to be sustained and moved forward, we think we’re on the right path. The numbers that need to go up are going up dramatically, the numbers that need to go down are going down dramatically. We are not done. We are continuing to work that border, and work it hard. I have as Senator Kyl knows…
Cornyn: You agree more needs to be done?
Napolitano: At the minimum we need to be able to financially sustain what we are doing at the southwest border, and that I think is something we’ll need to work with the Congress on…
Cornyn: Madam Secretary, sustaining the current effort means about a half million people coming across the border here that are detained, and of course if this is a strange way to keep statistics, because as you know and I know, how many are detained tells you nothing about how who many got away. And of course there are many guesses about whether that’s two get away for every one that is detained, or 3, or 4. But, I also want to ask you in the GAO report, which I’ll ask to be made part of the record in a moment, dated February 15th. They say that Customs and Border Patrol does not have an estimate of the time and efforts needed to secure the border. Do you have an estimate of the time and efforts needed to secure the border?
Napolitano: Well first of all let me go back to your earlier point, Senator Cornyn. When I say sustain, I mean sustain the trends. Sustain our downward trend on illegal immigrants getting across our border, sustain our upward trend on the seizures of drugs and illegal guns and bulk cash. So when I say sustain I don’t mean steady-state, I mean sustain the kind of trend lines that we have developed over the past two years.
Cornyn: I understand, but do you have an estimate of the time and efforts needed to secure the border that Customs and Border Patrol said they were unable to provide?
Napolitano: Well, if I might, Senator. This is not a one of those projects where you say, ‘Well by April 1 were going to secure the border,’ this has to be…
Cornyn: Madam Secretary, I’m asking you a simple question. Do you, or do you not have an estimate of the time and efforts needed to secure the southwestern border? Yes or no?
Napolitano: Well, my answer, Senator is that our efforts to secure the border will be continuing, and what I’m afraid of is if I give you a date, at that point then resources will be taken away and put somewhere else. This will need to be a sustained effort over time.
Cornyn: I would suggest to the contrary, Madam Secretary. You know that you have members of this committee who have been very active in the effort to provide your department the resources that are necessary to finish the job. And I would just say, you mention the issue of immigration reform, and I join you in your observation that our immigration system is broken and needs reforming, but I have to tell you, as long as the American people have no confidence that the federal government is doing its job when it comes to securing the border. Based on the enforcement of the rule of law, which is basic to our national creed, but is also a national security threat with our porous border admitting people coming from 140 different countries other than Mexico, including 4 nations that are State-sponsors of international terrorism. This is a national security threat, so we need to regain the confidence of the American people before they’re going to allow us to move forward on the sorts of things that you know and I know we need to do to fix our broken immigration system.
Napolitano: If I might Senator, we have invited bipartisan leadership of the Congress to come down to the southwest border to see all of the activities that at a bipartisan level have been supported across this border…
Cornyn: Madam Secretary, you don’t need to invite a Texan or an Arizonan to come to the border…
Napolitano: I would suggest though—I know that—and I’ve spent almost my entire life on the border. I was raised in New Mexico, I spent my adult life in Arizona till I moved here, so I know that border very, very well. But there are other members of the Congress who do not, and I think if they see what is down there, and what is coming, because more and more keeps coming, they will understand both the enormity of the task, but also all of the operations put in place.

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