WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared Monday that it’s “clear from every measure” that border security is improving under the Obama administration despite what she called outdated laws that should be strengthened.
During her second annual State of America’s Homeland Security address Monday at the National Press Club, Napolitano said illegal crossings have dropped 53 percent over the past three years — and now are about 20 percent lower than they were at their height.
In addition, tougher border enforcement has caused a drop in the amount of illicit goods crossing the borders, she said. In fiscal 2011, Homeland Security intercepted illegal products worth more than $1.1 billion, she added.
“The Obama administration has undertaken the most serious and sustained actions to secure our borders in our nation’s history,” Napolitano said. “And it is clear from every measure we currently have this approach is working.”
However, Napolitano admitted the promising statistics don’t reveal a harsher truth.
“The bottom line is that our nation’s current immigration laws are sorely outdated and in desperate need of revision,” she said, noting her department has still “acted on clear and common-sense priorities” when patrolling the nation’s borders.
Asked what her main priority is to reform immigration policy, Napolitano pointed to a proposal that Congress did not pass that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, completed high school and either attend college or enter the military.
“They’ve played by the rules and as they reach adulthood, they’ve come into contact with immigration and all of a sudden, they’re in line for deportation or removal,” she said. “These are the so-called DREAM Act kids.”
In her half-hour speech, Napolitano also outlined her agency’s updated strategy to gather intelligence and use it to assess national security threats with greater precision. For example, she said that not every traveler or piece of cargo presents the same risk level.
“If we have to look for a needle in a haystack, it makes sense to use all of the information we have about the pieces of hay to make the haystack smaller,” she said.
Napolitano’s address also touched on the evolving nature of airport security, which she described as moving away from “one-size-fits-all passenger screening.”
She said the Transportation Security Administration is working to expand its pre-screen program, which allows airport officials to focus more on “passengers we know less about.” The pilot program creates an expedited airport security lane for pre-approved flyers and, in some cases, does not require them to remove their shoes or belts while being screened.
“We must recognize that security and efficiency are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “…And we know we can because we’re already doing so.”
Napolitano called the airport security reform another example of evaluating risk based on intelligence gathered the right way.
She dismissed reports that federal agencies have been pointedly targeting Muslim Americans in investigating potential terrorists.
“Profiling is not effective law enforcement because it is not necessarily intelligence-driven,” Napolitano said. “Profiling is not the thing to do.”