Tue, Aug. 20

Brewer, Napolitano spar over border security needs

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer and her predecessor traded requests Sunday over what each wants from the other to improve border security.

An aide to Janet Napolitano said the homeland security chief asked Brewer during the half-hour, closed-door meeting to actively support the request by President Obama for Congress to provide an immediate infusion of additional cash to boost staffing for the Border Patrol and sister agencies.

The aide said Napolitano told Brewer that half of the 1,000 additional Border Patrol officers that would be funded with the $500 million supplemental appropriation would be assigned to Arizona. And 50 of the 160 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers that would be included in the plan also would be assigned to the state.

That is all on top of the 1,200 National Guard soldiers that Obama announced last month he would move to the border, 524 of which would come to Arizona.

The difference is that Obama does not need congressional action for that move. The White House said the $135 million price tag will come from "existing resources' in both the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

But the supplemental appropriation is different, with the president needing federal lawmakers to cough up the cash. And some support from a local governor could push members of Congress to go along.

Napolitano got what she wanted -- sort of.

"Gov. Brewer does not oppose additional assistance,' gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said after the meeting. "But this proposal is inadequate.'

But Brewer, in turn, made a request of her own: She wants Napolitano to do what she can to get the state more of what it is owed under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

That program requires the federal government to reimburse states for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who are convicted of state crimes. And close to one out of every seven inmates in Arizona's prison system is an illegal immigrant.

But the state has never gotten its full share.

In a letter last October to the president, Jon Kyl and John McCain, the state's two U.S. senators, said Arizona got back just 4 percent of its costs last fiscal year.

Brewer said earlier this year that Obama had requested just $330 million for the entire country. But she put what Arizona alone is owed since 2003 at $700 million.

State Treasurer Dean Martin did some computations back even further, figuring the costs to the state since 1994 at nearly $929.5 million, with reimbursement totaling less than $145 million. Martin said that, with accumulated interest, the bill now totals more than $1 billion.

Only thing is, it isn't the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano's agency, that funds the allocations to the states. It is the Department of Justice -- the same agency that just filed suit against Arizona over the state's tough new immigration law.

Senseman said Brewer is aware of that. But he said that the governor believes that Napolitano, by virtue of her six years as Arizona governor -- and the bills she sent for reimbursement -- would use her position in the Obama cabinet to "advocate for the SCAAP funds.'

The other issue is that the federal law has a huge loophole: It makes the requirement to pay subject to congressional appropriation. That means when federal lawmakers don't fully fund the program -- and they haven't for years -- states get just pennies on the dollar.

Still, Brewer is hoping that Napolitano, now a Cabinet insider, will be a sympathetic ally.

Napolitano certainly had her own run-ins with the federal government over the issue. The difference is that it was President George W. Bush, a Republican, who was trying to eliminate SCAAP funding, and Napolitano, a Democratic governor, who was pushing for more cash.

The subject of the federal lawsuit against Arizona for its new immigration law did not come up during the visit.

According to the Napolitano aide, the homeland security chief spent much of the time working to convince Brewer how much better security is now than when Obama took office.

"The Border Patrol is better staffed today than at any time in its 85-year history,' he said. He also said that seizures of illegal drugs are up, illegal immigration is down and violent crime in U.S. communities along the border is "trending in the right direction.'

Brewer, by contrast, put in a push for her own plan for better security, including making more helicopters available to the Arizona National Guard for the surveillance missions it already conducts. That, however, would require taking the helicopters from Guard units in other states.

And she wants the administration to provide more unmanned aerial vehicles to monitor the border once they are no longer needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brewer also has called the 524 Guard units set for Arizona deployment ``somewhat disappointing to say the least.' The governor also said that figure is misleading: The force will be at full strength for only 120 days of the one-year stint, with ramp-up and ramp-down on both sides.