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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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