Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remarks By Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano

Let us see if she changes her position from a month ago when she meets Canadian officials today and tomorrow.

Now I know why the surveys were taken about border backups that I just Blogged about and why booths were closed down so that crossing times would be higher for the Secretary's analysis.

Gee....I guess the Secretary may think we may need a DRIC Bridge after all.

  • Remarks by Secretary Napolitano at the Border Trade Alliance International Conference

    Release Date: April 21, 2009

    For Immediate Release
    Office of the Press Secretary
    Contact: 202-282-8010

    Well, thank you and good morning to everybody. It's a pleasure to be here and I've seen some of you, literally, at the ports. We've been traveling quite a bit in my first 90 days as the Secretary of Homeland Security. Yesterday was the three month anniversary of President Obama's inauguration and I think it can fairly be said that everybody has been running at full speed for those days and so much has been done, but so much is left to be done. So, I want to thank the Border Trade Alliance for having me because the mission of the Department of Homeland Security has such a direct impact on what you do every day.

    Last week, I visited three locations on the southern border: El Paso [Texas], Columbus, N.M., and Nogales, Ariz., before heading to Mexico for the second time as Secretary of Homeland Security. That same week, last week, the new Deputy Secretary, she was just confirmed two weeks ago, Jane Hall Lute, visited the northern border at Buffalo and Ottawa. Last month, I also visited Laredo [Texas] and Otay Mesa [Calif.]. And President Obama already has been to Canada and to Mexico. So, clearly you can see, in this first 90 days that we are focused on the border and that we are personally engaged, both from a security standpoint and from a trade standpoint. The two go together. We cannot separate one from the other. Now, to be sure, we face a range of threats at the border from drugs and weapons to human smuggling and human trafficking. And we need to act accordingly to address each of these. So, let me talk about those and then I'll talk a little bit about the some of the trade impacts.

    Obviously, we need to control illegal immigration. Last year, we apprehended more than one million illegal individuals at the border. And we removed 369,000 illegals from the nation, the interior of the nation itself. Last year, Customs and Border Protection seized 2.7 million pounds of illegal narcotics, keeping those drugs from entering our cities and communities. So, preventing the illegal entry of people and drugs remains a priority. But it is not the sum total of our focus.

    We don't want to damage economic security in the name of homeland security. United States, Canada, Mexico—all three economies depend on trade. So, part of our mission is also to protect against unlawful trade. Last year, Customs and Border Protection [CBP] had 14,700 seizures of goods for intellectual property rights violations worth over $267 million. So, you've got illegal drugs, human trafficking, illegal entrance, you've got illegal intellectual property. How do we balance all of those things?

    The first step is to respect the differences between the Northern and the Southern borders. What we do to protect the Southern border will not be the same, in all cases, as what we do to protect the Northern border. We know those borders are very different in terms of climate, geography, topography, et cetera, and we want to align ourselves, proportional to the threats we see while building appropriate mechanisms to facilitate trade. So, there are differences, some differences between those borders, but there are also similarities.

    First, there are security concerns on both borders, North and South. Yes, the cartel violence we are seeing in Mexico is not taking place in Canada, but there is human and drug smuggling that must be addressed. This affects the entire country, not just the border region. We have illegal entry concerns on both borders, whether through the ports of entry or between them. So, we need to recognize that there are actual borders, North and South, not metaphorical borders, and we cannot pretend that there are not borders even though we have close, close relationships with Canada and with Mexico.

    So, how does the need to have a safe and secure border with drugs, illegal entrance, intellectual property rights violations, how do we do this?

    First, here is our approach. There needs to be some level of parity between the two borders. We don't want to appear to go heavy on the southern border and light on the northern border. We will have a balanced approach, consistent with effective security for our entire country.

    Second, we need to deal with circumstances on the ground. On the Southern border, it means protecting against drug cartel violence and combating illegal entry. We've launched a major initiative to do just that. We've added more personnel and technology and we've created a southbound strategy to stop the flow of guns and bulk cash into Mexico. We've also expanded our partnerships with state and local law enforcement at the southern border.

    I have named a new special representative for border affairs. His name is Alan Bersin. He is a veteran prosecutor who will coordinate all of our efforts on the southwest border. Some of you may know Alan. He's the former United States Attorney for the southern district of California, which is San Diego, and indeed, that is where he is from. So, he's very familiar with the southern border.

    What are we doing on the northern border? On the northern border, we are applying assets and technology. We've there detailed five new, five new CBP air and marine branches. We have used the unmanned aerial system to fly that border to provide intelligence information to us. We have 24 integrated border enforcement teams in place on the northern border. These are teams that also include Canadian law enforcement and others designed to create a safe and secure border zone across Canada.

    On both borders, we have BEST teams. Border Enforcement Security Teams. On both borders, we are looking at and employing types of technology so that we can share more information with our partners. Both borders require policing against fraudulent documents and fraudulent entry into the United States. That's why we have what's called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative—WHTI. I suspect this crowd knows about WHTI. I will just guess that one. I will report that we believe to be on track for the June 1 implementation of WHTI. We're in the process of conducting as aggressive outreach as possible recognizing that whenever there is a deadline, people assume that it's not really a deadline. And, quite frankly, procrastination is a very human trait. Nonetheless, the deadline is real. Secretary Clinton and I have both signed the documents that say that the June 1 deadline can be met. So, we are conducting aggressive outreach up to and including everybody at the port getting a tear sheet. Basically, it's a brochure telling them about the deadline and what they need to do and have the next time they cross the border.

    We have installed RFID [Radio Frequency Identification] readers at the top 39 points to enable swifter processing. And, we have a few ports still left to go. We are using RFID already at 29 ports of entry that process over 80 percent of the crossings. DOS—Department of State, has issued over 950,000 passport cards, which can be used to cross the Canadian and Mexico borders. And the preliminary data—now preliminary data can always be wrong, but I'm going to report it to you—anyway, indicates that roughly 80 percent of United States and Canadian citizens queried are already using WHTI-compliant documents.

    So, the equipment is installed or last of it is in the process of being installed and tested. Our preliminary data is that the overwhelming majority of people crossing the border, particularly the Canadian border, already have compliant documents and we are staffing up to make sure that if there is a surge, right around the deadline time or right afterwards, we can handle that surge so that we don't get the passport backlog that occurred several years ago. So, the deadline is there. It is real. Having said that, I will say that we know, with all deadlines, a little common sense and flexibility needs to be applied and we are prepared to use common sense and application should the need arise...

    I am going to stop right now, and let's have some Question:s. Thank you very much.

    Question: Good morning, Madam Secretary. My name is Wilfred Moore. I'm a senator from Canada and from the province of Nova Scotia. And I am the Vice Chairman of the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group. And I have a delegation that's here with me this morning. We have read your comments during your speech at the Brookings Institution on the 25th of March wherein you stated there is a "very real feeling among the Southern border states and on Mexico" that things are being done on the Mexico border. They should also be done on the Canadian Border, that they shouldn't go light on one and heavy on the other.

    We believe that there are different realities on the two borders and that they require different measures, which should not be considered to be discriminatory. We believe that you should respect this reality, as we jointly determine the management of our shared border; and, it is our hope that we can return to the cooperative approach that existed when these smart border action plan was put in place in 2001 between our two countries.

    Now, you may not be prepared to make it good today, but we would like to know what you see as the next step on the shared management of our border.

    Secretary Napolitano: Well, let me.

    Question: Just let me finish here.

    Secretary Napolitano: Oh, you're not done? Okay.

    Question: We believe it would be beneficial for you to meet with our group at your convenience to discuss these issues with a view to not thickening the border so as to permit the smooth and efficient transport of people and commerce.

    Secretary Napolitano: I think my comments today address some of your concerns. Where I said we have to have a border both North and South, but the techniques, the strategies we're going to use on both borders, are somewhat different.

    The Southwest border is much more manpower intensive because of the illegal immigration drug trafficking concerns that are more concerns with Mexico than Canada. We have other concerns with Canada. We have shared those with officials from Canada, so we have to have a real border there.

    So that was the point of my comments at Brookings, which is to say we can no longer pretend that people can just go back and forth like they always have. And, when I met with other delegations form Canada or with other government representatives, I always get the story about people going back and forth, and they didn't have to have a document, and it was no problem. And I recognize that that was the past, but the future is that there will be a real border. We will have WHTI at both borders for example.

    Question: Well, nobody is disputing that Madam Secretary.

    Secretary Napolitano: Let me finish. And so that was the point of the Brookings comment, which is to see that there is a feeling and I was reporting it on the Southern states and in Mexico that nobody thought that the Northern border had to have anything, and it does; and, I take my direction now from the United States Congress, which has passed a law saying you will have things at both borders, and these are the things you will have.

    But implementation is somewhat different, and that is why I spoke today directly to the types of the IBET [Integrated Border Enforcement] teams, the 24 teams we will have at the Northern border, the kinds of technology and fast lanes and things we will employ at the Northern border, because I am very sensitive to the fact that we have huge trade, among other things, relations with Canada.

    Question: They're just in the world.

    Secretary Napolitano: Exactly; and we need to move those lines. And the real tension we have between security, safety and trade, is the length of time it takes to cross a border. So I'm going to do everything I can and I look forward to working with you; and, if we can arrange a meeting, particularly when I go to Canada, that would be great to see what we can do to facilitate the lines.

    But the message I have been trying to send is there are real borders, North and South. They both need to be as secure as possible, and that's what we are going to do.

    Question: We agree with that, that approach, but we want to have a sharing of the responsibility, the management of the borders. And I think it's timely that with the downturn in the economy, which we are now unfortunately experiencing, it would be most appropriate to get at this now as opposed to when the economy starts to roll again. Thank you very much.

    Secretary Napolitano: I agree with that as well. I think there's a window of opportunity here that we ought to take advantage of totally. Thank you, sir...

    Secretary Napolitano: Last Question:?

    Question: Thank you. Thank you very much, Madam Secretary, and congratulations on your new position. We know you'll be a friend of Canada. My name is Ken James, a Chairperson of Blue Water Bridge, Canada, a CROM Corporation of our government.

    I just want to bring to your attention, following a meeting with former U.S. President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a statement: "If the fight for security ends up meaning that the United States becomes more closed to its friends, then the terrorists have won. I would hate to see laws go into place that has the effect of not just limiting or endangering trade or tourism, but endangering all the thousands of social trans-interactions that occur across our border."

    And he went on later on, it was reported in the National Post in Canada, "Threat to the United States are threats to Canada," Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared, as he stood next to President Obama during the President's recent visit to Canada.

    But actually then the Senator mentioned some of your comments at the Brookings Institute that tend to leave Canadians thinking that security is not adequate and that Homeland Security is of the mind that Canada is not doing enough security-wise. And that is certainly something that, of course, has been spread across our country since the comments that you made and the actions that have taken place. I'd be interested in your comments in relation to that.

    Secretary Napolitano: Well, I think if my job is to be a myth-buster, I'm a myth-buster. And the myth I'm trying to bust is that there's no real border between Canada and the United States.

    There's the closets of friendships, there's the closest of alliances. There's the closest of trade relationships. I know that, I respect that.

    But the law says there's a border and certain things have to be done at the border. And the fact of the matter is that Canada allows people into its country that we do not allow into ours. And that's why you have to have a border. And you have to have a border policy that makes sense.

    And what I'm suggesting is that we will have a border, we will have a border policy that is sensitive to the differences between Mexico and Canada. But there will be a policy for both borders. And it will require establishing the legal ability to come into the United States. That's all.
    Question: I think it's just that the Prime Minister is of the mind that we are not allowing people into our country that wouldn't be allowed into your country. So I think that's where the difference of opinion is.

    Secretary Napolitano: And I will be coming to Canada myself. Indeed, I was supposed to be there last week, until President Obama asked me to in Mexico City. And he's my boss, so—

    Secretary Napolitano: So off I went, and that was cool. It was a great meeting. But I sent my deputy secretary in my stead, and I intend to come to Canada myself in a few weeks. I don't know that we have a date actually scheduled, but soon.

    And the goal will be to, you know, state what I've stated here with you today, where we're trying to reach is the right balance on all the things that we are asked to balance, but, you know, recognizing in the end, Canada is our neighbor and our friend; Mexico is our neighbor and our friend. This is a very strong partnership that we have. And the communities along our borders will be enriched with a safer and secure border, and our countries will be better off with a safer and secure border.

    But we cannot achieve safety and security and sacrifice trade. So we have to do it in such a way that trade is facilitated. And that's what we are working on and accept suggestions on, and would accept suggestions from you, and anybody in your group.

    With that, I will say thank you for having me. Enjoy your meeting, and take care.