Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says comprehensive immigration reform will strengthen the nation's border against criminals and other threats.
Napolitano toured the border near Nogales Tuesday with the highest-ranking official at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the incoming chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee and an Arizona congressman.
During the tour, Napolitano observed the border from an aircraft and met with Border Patrol agents.
Napolitano said border crossings are down 50 percent since 2008 and 78 percent since their peak in 2000.
Her visit came as Sen. John McCain defended his proposed immigration overhaul in suburban Arizona in the latest sign that this border state will play a prominent role in the national immigration debate.
A bipartisan group of senators - including McCain - want assurances on border security.
Here's the full, joint statement issued by Napolitano and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Tom Carper:
"Today, we traveled to Nogales, Ariz. to see the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) border security operations at the Southwest border and on-going efforts to secure the border, while facilitating lawful travel and trade. We participated in an aerial tour of the U.S.-Mexico border, visited the Mariposa Port of Entry, and met with the men and women who serve on the frontlines to protect our nation's borders.
Over the past four years, the Obama Administration, working together with Congress, has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border, and undertaken an unprecedented effort to transform our nation's immigration enforcement systems into one that focuses on public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system.
The Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in its 88-year history, having doubled the number of agents from approximately 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,300 today. Attempts to cross the border illegally, as measured by U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions, totaled nearly 365,000 nationwide in FY 2012, representing a nearly 50 percent decrease since FY 2008 and a 78 percent decrease from their peak in FY 2000. Additionally, from FY 2009 to 2012, CBP and ICE seized 71 percent more currency, 39 percent more drugs, and 189 percent more weapons along the Southwest border as compared to FY 2005 to 2008.
Comprehensive immigration reform will help us continue to build on this progress and strengthen border security by focusing resources on preventing the entry of criminals, human smugglers and traffickers, and national security threats."
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation) contributed to this report.
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