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Updated Feb 12, 2013 - 11:23 am

Gov. Brewer to tour border south of Tucson

PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer planned Tuesday to tour Arizona’s border with
Mexico to draw attention its drug and human smuggling problems just hours before
President Barack Obama is expected to promote his immigration plan in the State
of the Union address.

Brewer intended to meet with Border Patrol agents and southern Arizona ranchers
before boarding an Arizona National Guard Blackhawk helicopter for a nearly
three-hour tour of the nation’s busiest smuggling region.

Brewer has said border security, not visa reform, should be the top issue for
lawmakers, and she has vowed to protest any federal immigration overhaul that
does not protect Arizona’s southern border.

Last month, Obama unveiled his immigration proposal supporting a path to
citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Arizona
Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have also called for comprehensive
immigration reform.

Critics, including Brewer, insist the border must be secured before new rights
are extended to illegal immigrants, but there is much disagreement over what
exactly a secure border means.

The number of people apprehended in Arizona for illegally crossing the border
last year dropped to the lowest level in nearly 20 years, according to U.S.
Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has pointed to historic
numbers of Border Patrol agents across the Southwest, along with enhancements in
technology such as drones and remote sensors aimed at making the region safer.

“I believe the border is secure. I believe the border’s a safe border. That’s
not to say everything is 100 percent,” Napolitano said last week on a stop in
San Diego.

Arizona became the busiest stretch of the border for drug and human smuggling
after crackdowns in Texas and California in the 1990s. In 2005, agents in the
Tucson sector apprehended more than 490,000 illegal immigrants — an all-time
high. In the 2012 fiscal year in the same sector, about 120,000 illegal
immigrants were apprehended.

Meanwhile, the amount of drugs seized in Arizona has soared with agents
confiscating about 1 million pounds of marijuana in the Tucson sector last year,
more than double the amount seized in 2005.

Brewer has advocated for more fencing, technology and manpower along the
border, spokesman Matthew Benson said.

While progress has been made, “I don’t think anyone would call the Tucson area
secure at this point,” Benson said.

___

Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff and Bob Christie contributed to this
report.

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