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Napolitano: American towns on Mexican border are safe

| Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011

EL PASO, Texas -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday that U.S. communities on the border with Mexico are safer than most Americans believe but warned Mexican drug cartels they'll be "met by an overwhelming response" should they move north.

Napolitano told an audience at the University of Texas at El Paso -- just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez and the unprecedented wave of drug-fueled violence engulfing it -- that it's "inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border is overrun with violence and out of control."

"This statement, often made only to score political points, is just plain wrong," said Napolitano, who was governor of Arizona before being confirmed as Homeland Security secretary in 2009.

Napolitano said violent crime has not spiked in U.S. communities across the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. But the secretary recognized that guarding against spillover from Mexican drug violence is an ongoing concern.

"Today I say to the cartels: Don't even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border. You will be met by an overwhelming response," she said. "And we're going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you."

Napolitano said the Obama administration has increased the Border Patrol to more than 20,700 agents, more than double its size in 2004. She said $600 million in funding signed last year by President Obama will allow authorities to hire 1,000 Border Patrol agents and 250 Customs and Border Protection agents to guard formal Mexico-U.S. border crossings.

An additional 250 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents focused on transnational crime, as well as increased unmanned aircraft patrols, are budgeted.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has long criticized the federal government on border security, slamming Washington for not sending enough manpower and money to his state, saying last year that the $600 million was a good start, but not enough.

A sluggish U.S. economy has reduced the number of immigrants sneaking into U.S. territory and Napolitano said Border Patrol apprehensions declined 36 percent in the past two years as a result. But she also said U.S. authorities deported 779,000 illegal immigrants nationwide in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, more than ever before.

Last year, about 195,000 deportees were convicted criminals, Napolitano said.

"Let's stick with the facts and numbers when talking about where we are with the border," she said.

Napolitano's address was part of a yearlong nationwide campus tour that began last week.

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