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Updated Feb 12, 2013 - 8:13 pm

Arizona Gov. Brewer: Border residents don’t feel safe

TUCSON, Ariz. — The border with Mexico won’t be secure until the people
living near there feel safe from drug and human trafficking, said Arizona Gov.
Jan Brewer Tuesday after touring the region just hours before President Barack
Obama championed his immigration plan in the State of the Union address.

Brewer said Afghanistan has safer borders and called for more fences, drones
and law enforcement officials after touring the border near Tucson in an Arizona
National Guard Blackhawk helicopter for nearly three hours. Her remarks came as
national leaders 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.

“Anybody that would tell us that the border is secure is the people living on
the border,” Brewer said.

Last month, Obama unveiled his immigration proposal supporting a path to
citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. During his
State of the Union address, Obama pledged to enforce border security and urged
lawmakers to send him legislation.

“America will be better for it,” he said. “Let’s get it done.”

Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have also called for an
immigration overhaul. The Senate plan seeks to make a pathway to citizenship
conditional on a secure border.

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.

Brewer said Obama and other federal officials who claim the border is safe need
to speak with people living in the region. Brewer said she and other border
governors should be appointed to a proposed commission of border state lawmakers
and citizens tasked with making recommendations on when border security metrics
have been met. The commission is part of the Senate’s tentative immigration

Brewer also met Tuesday with ranchers from along the border and Border Patrol
officials. She compared her tour with a recent trip to Afghanistan. “They can
secure the borders over there. Why can’t we secure our border here?”

Southern Arizona ranchers frequently find guns, drugs and trash left on their
property, Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s
Association, said after the meeting.

“We definitely don’t feel the border is safe at this time,” he said.

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 said illegal immigration fell because of Arizona’s tough
anti-immigration stance and a decline in economic opportunity.

“I truly believe that when the economy gets better, it will all start up
again,” she said.


Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff and Bob Christie contributed to this


Cristina Silva can be reached at (at)cristymsilva


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