Rich Cooper

Jun 23, 2010

Before a packed audience at CSIS, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered what can only be described as a pointed and aggressive defense of the Obama Administration”s border security efforts. Declaring that “the US border has never been more secure…but there is more work to be done” and that “no one is satisfied with the status quo,” her “tough talk” about border security comes at a very interesting time.

With the Obama Administration poised to challenge in court the
recently enacted tough Arizona immigration law, the ongoing southwest
border violence and recent charges by Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) regarding a
recent Oval Office meeting with the President about when immigration
reform might be tackled, the Obama Administration rolled out their most
experienced border expert to take on its critics and declare what had
been done.

While I”ve never seen her campaign for elective office, I got the
sense from her delivery that she was very happy to put on her boxing
gloves and take on all comers. It was in essence a campaign speech to
declare what had been done on the Administration”s watch and to make
sure they knew the President and his team deserved credit for it.

Pointedly saying, “the numbers tell a story and don”t lie,”
the Secretary detailed increases in border patrol hiring and
deployments, increases in enforcement and deportations, and in
technology deployments. The numbers were impressive and they do tell a
positive story, but sitting in the audience, I and a number of other
attendees noted that many of the investments and numbers she heralded
were initiated by her predecessor, Michael Chertoff and the previous
Administration. I haven”t had time to do it, but it would be an
interesting side-by-side comparison to put the end-of-term Chertoff
accomplishments against the numbers professed at CSIS. I”m sure the
numbers have improved, but they were already trending in the right
direction. Fortunately the Obama Administration has kept them going
that way.

I”m sure that sounds like political pettiness (especially from a
former DHS political appointee, as I was), but for as quick as this
Administration is to blame the Bush Administration for all that is
wrong in the world, there are a number of things for which they also
deserve credit. Doubling the size of the border patrol and other
investments are part of that legacy. I realize it is not in Sec.
Napolitano”s job description to burnish the legacy of her predecessor
or the previous Administration but a significant portion of what she
crowed about at CSIS she inherited, and it has made a difference. If
that sounds defensive, it was supposed too. The “facts also tell a story.”

In sending out the Administration”s strongest and most experienced
voice on the southwest border, the White House through DHS is
essentially taking head-on the criticisms of the 24-7 punditry (e.g.
Fox News, etc.); Congress; and states like Arizona that are looking to
follow with their own tough illegal immigration measures. Declaring
several times that border security “is the responsibility of the federal government” and “we can”t have 50 different policies” for immigration, “smart actions” were the only thing that could solve the on-going border security problems that plague our nation.

To reinforce that point, Chief Rob Davis of the San Jose Police
Department emphasized the challenge and confusion that he and other
police departments face. “Do you want us [police officers] out looking for murderers, rapists and other bad guys or arresting illegal immigrants?
Explaining that his police department was facing a potential force
reduction of 8 percent because of ongoing budget problems in
California, he stated that communities across America were going to
have to make a choice of what they wanted policed when resources such
as his were becoming increasingly limited. And having 50 different
immigration enforcement policies was not a suitable answer.

His point couldn”t have been driven home any better, and his call
for the nation to produce a comprehensive immigration bill was just
what the Secretary wanted to hear. Applauding his public service as
well as his statement, Secretary Napolitano offered that until that was
done by Congress, our border problems would continue.

This piece was on Security Debrief.


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