Attorney General Tom Horne testified in Washington on Wednesday that the president’s claim the border is “more secure than ever’’ is a myth.
Horne, one of four border-area officials speaking to a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, said it may be true, as President Barack Obama said in a Tuesday speech, that fewer people than ever are being apprehended trying to cross illegally. But Horne said that is not the right way to measure border security.
“Even if there is some improvement in numbers, the absolute situation is totally unacceptable,’’ he said, saying about 400,000 people crossed into the United States through the Tucson sector last year. “It is utterly unacceptable.’’
And Victor Rodriguez, police chief of McAllen, Texas, told lawmakers that the president’s statistics about an increase in seizures of drugs, currency and weapons also do not make the border secure.
“We should not rely on one, two or three variables to make that call,’’ he said.
“We have incursions every day, people that are afraid to go out on their property,’’ Rodriguez continued. “That’s un-American.’’
But much of Horne’s testimony was focused on his belief it is possible to secure the border. He said all anyone has to do is look at how much has changed in the Yuma sector which, beginning in 2006, was the focal point of a major effort to slow the flow.
The result, said Horne, is apprehensions decreased from 134,000 in 2005 to just 7,200 last year.
“But in the Tucson sector, since 2009 well over 400,000 people have crossed illegally into the United States,’’ he said. “That is the equivalent of an invasion, from various countries, of 20 divisions.’’
The position of the Department of Homeland Security, however, is that the comparisons are invalid.
“Yuma is relatively flat, it has literally no shrubs, any type of shelter out there,’’ explained Andy Adame, public information officer for the Southwest Border Joint Information Center. “On the Tucson side you’ve got a lot of big, rocky canyons, a lot of remote areas, limited access to those areas.’’
Adame said many of the same types of technology do exist in both areas.
“The way the terrain is set up, you put up a remote video surveillance cameras in the open desert, you can see for miles,’’ he explained.
“But you put one up near something that’s rugged and rocky, you may be able to see a quarter mile,’’ Adame continued. “It just has to be deployed in a different manner.
Horne was not convinced any of that ultimately matters.
“The Obama administration could do in the Tucson sector what the Bush administration did in the Yuma sector, but it has chosen not to do so,’’ he testified. And the problems in the Tucson sector, he said, undermine everything done everywhere else.
“All of the work the United States has done to control illegal immigration in California, Texas and New Mexico, and in the Yuma sector, are useless if it simply increases the number of illegal aliens pouring through the Tucson sector,’’ he said.
Horne said he supports a proposal advanced by the Arizona Cattle Growers Association to put an additional 3,000 Border Patrol field agents in Arizona and to have “forward operating bases’’ adjacent to the border approximately every 12 miles. Most immediately, he said the National Guard soldiers now on the border should remain.
Matt Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said his agency is preparing to ask Congress to allow it to move around some funds to extend the deployment beyond its current June 30 end date. But at this point all Homeland Security is seeking is funds for another three months.
Horne also warned members of the subcommittee that the opportunity to work with Mexico to secure the border and cut down on drug violence is fading fast.
“The support for (Mexican) President (Felipe) Calderon politically, his heroic actions, is waning,’’ Horne said. Calderon has targeted the drug cartels, though that has sometimes resulted in more counter-violence.
“So things could get much worse,’’ Horne said. “To promote complacency at this time I think is very dangerous and scary.’’
There was little doubt that the purpose of the hearing, chaired by Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, was designed to provide the counter to Obama’s claims, claims the president is now using to say it is time to consider “comprehensive immigration reform,’’ including a path to legalize the 11 million or so people in this country illegally.
He said at the outset of Wednesday’s hearing he does not believe the border is more secure now than it ever has been. And he took a slap at the president’s Tuesday speech.
“I’ve urged the president to visit the border and to do more than deliver a political speech,’’ he said.
But the Democrats on the panel got in their own licks.
Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., the ranking minority member on the subcommittee, pointed out that one of the first acts of Republicans when they took control of the House was to approve a series of spending cuts, including taking $350 million from the Department of Homeland Security. Then he asked Horne and the other three who were testifying whether they think that cut will hinder border security.
“I’m a Republican elected official,’’ Horne said. “I’m happy to be bipartisan and agree with you it should be increased.’’