Before a packed audience at CSIS, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered what can only be described as a pointed and aggressive defense of the Obama Administration’s border security efforts. Declaring that “the US border has never been more secure…but there is more work to be done” and that “no one is satisfied with the status quo,” her “tough talk” about border security comes at a very interesting time.

With the Obama Administration poised to challenge in court the recently enacted tough Arizona immigration law, the ongoing southwest border violence and recent charges by Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) regarding a recent Oval Office meeting with the President about when immigration reform might be tackled, the Obama Administration rolled out their most experienced border expert to take on its critics and declare what had been done.

While I’ve never seen her campaign for elective office, I got the sense from her delivery that she was very happy to put on her boxing gloves and take on all comers. It was in essence a campaign speech to declare what had been done on the Administration’s watch and to make sure they knew the President and his team deserved credit for it.

Pointedly saying, “the numbers tell a story and don’t lie,” the Secretary detailed increases in border patrol hiring and deployments, increases in enforcement and deportations, and in technology deployments. The numbers were impressive and they do tell a positive story, but sitting in the audience, I and a number of other attendees noted that many of the investments and numbers she heralded were initiated by her predecessor, Michael Chertoff and the previous Administration. I haven’t had time to do it, but it would be an interesting side-by-side comparison to put the end-of-term Chertoff accomplishments against the numbers professed at CSIS. I’m sure the numbers have improved, but they were already trending in the right direction. Fortunately the Obama Administration has kept them going that way.

I’m sure that sounds like political pettiness (especially from a former DHS political appointee, as I was), but for as quick as this Administration is to blame the Bush Administration for all that is wrong in the world, there are a number of things for which they also deserve credit. Doubling the size of the border patrol and other investments are part of that legacy. I realize it is not in Sec. Napolitano’s job description to burnish the legacy of her predecessor or the previous Administration but a significant portion of what she crowed about at CSIS she inherited, and it has made a difference. If that sounds defensive, it was supposed too. The “facts also tell a story.”

In sending out the Administration’s strongest and most experienced voice on the southwest border, the White House through DHS is essentially taking head-on the criticisms of the 24-7 punditry (e.g. Fox News, etc.); Congress; and states like Arizona that are looking to follow with their own tough illegal immigration measures. Declaring several times that border security “is the responsibility of the federal government” and “we can’t have 50 different policies” for immigration, “smart actions” were the only thing that could solve the on-going border security problems that plague our nation.

To reinforce that point, Chief Rob Davis of the San Jose Police Department emphasized the challenge and confusion that he and other police departments face. “Do you want us [police officers] out looking for murderers, rapists and other bad guys or arresting illegal immigrants?” Explaining that his police department was facing a potential force reduction of 8 percent because of ongoing budget problems in California, he stated that communities across America were going to have to make a choice of what they wanted policed when resources such as his were becoming increasingly limited. And having 50 different immigration enforcement policies was not a suitable answer.

His point couldn’t have been driven home any better, and his call for the nation to produce a comprehensive immigration bill was just what the Secretary wanted to hear. Applauding his public service as well as his statement, Secretary Napolitano offered that until that was done by Congress, our border problems would continue.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More