“I say this again as someone who has walked that border,” she said. “I’ve ridden that border. I’ve flown it. I’ve driven it. I know that border I think as well as anyone, and I will tell you it is as secure now as it has ever been.”
Napolitano made that remark in response to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was questioning her during Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Before being appointed secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano served as the governor and attorney general of Arizona, where currently an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants reside. Arizona is also the state with the most illegal border crossings.
Last Friday, Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the nation’s toughest policy against illegal immigration, arguing that it was a response to the federal government’s inaction and misguided immigration policy.
Arizona’s new law grants local police officers the authority to check an individual’s immigration status if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person may be an undocumented immigrant.
The police officer may only check the immigration status if that a person is stopped for a different offense, such as speeding or driving while intoxicated.
When questioning Napolitano during the hearing, Sen. Graham described the Arizona immigration law as “unconstitutional,” adding that the law is the consequence of “an out of control border.”
Graham also said that the United States has “a long way to go” before its borders are secured, something that he further said would pave the way for getting immigration reform done by 2012.
He continued, “If we are smart and we address the big elephant in the room -- and that is that our borders are broken and there is a war going on -- that’s going to affect the future of this issue until we get that solved.”
During the hearing, the secretary of homeland security said that border security has deterred many undocumented immigrants from crossing the border in Arizona.
“Six, seven years ago, the number of illegal apprehensions in Tucson sector of the border was over 600,000, now is 200 [thousand],” said Napolitano.
"The Border Patrol is better staffed than at any point in its history -- more than 20,000 personnel,” she said. “Since 2004, the number of boots on the ground along the southwest border has increased by 80 percent.”
A transcript of the exchange between Sen. Graham and Sec. Napolitano follows below:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “What happened in Arizona is that good people are so afraid of an out of control border that they had to resort to a law that, I think, is unconstitutional. It doesn't represent the best way forward, and it is impossible for me and any other serious Democrat to get this body to move forward until we prove to the American people we can secure our borders and, quite frankly Madame secretary, we’ve got a long way to go. But once we get there, comprehensive reform should come up, will come up, and I believe we can do it by 2012 if we are smart and we address the big elephant in the room -- and that is that our borders are broken and there is a war going on -- that’s going to affect the future of this issue until we get that solved.”
Janet Napolitano: “Senator, may I respond to that.”
Napolitano: “And I, and I say this as, again, as someone who has walked that border. I’ve ridden that border. I’ve flown it. I’ve driven it. I know that border I think as well as, as anyone – ”
Graham: “Do you think it’s secured?”
Napolitano: “And, and I will tell you it is as secure now as it has ever been.”
Graham: “My question”
Napolitano: “Senator, please, let me answer the question. Every, every marker, every mile post that has been laid down by the Congress in terms of a number of agents, deployment of technology, the construction of fencing and the like has already either been completed or within a hair’s breadth of being completed. And one of the questions I think we need to talk about is whether securing the border is ever going to be reached before the Congress, in the sense of the Congress, or whether that goal post is just going to keep moving? And I also believe that we need to communicate better with the American people all that the Congress has already done along the border. It is a very different border now. Six, seven years ago, the number of illegal apprehensions in Tucson sector of the border was over 600,000, now it is 200 (thousand). Too many, I agree.”