NOGALES, Ariz. - Gov. Janet Napolitano launched her own program Friday to make the border safer and more secure, building on a recent agreement with her counterpart from the Mexican state of Sonora.
Napolitano and Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours said Friday they have run out of patience with the inability of their federal governments to stop illegal immigration.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety will set up a task force to find stolen vehicles heading for Mexico.
Bours said Sonora will establish checkpoints on four state highways to discourage human smugglers from bringing illegal immigrants north.
At a joint news conference Friday on the Arizona side of the international border, Napolitano rolled off statistics showing a sharp increase this year in stolen cars, assaults on border patrol officers and deaths of migrants in the desert.
She said the U.S. govern- ment is "falling short’’ in its responsibility for border safety. She cited the $217 million the federal government owes Arizona for the cost of incarcerating people who crossed the border illegally and then committed state crimes.
While states are supposed to be able to recover those costs, Congress has failed to appropriate enough to cover the bill.
Bours said Mexican authorities have been slow to respond to the problems created in his state by migrants from the rest of the country — and beyond — who crowd into Sonora.
And Napolitano said the stakes are high: The future of both tourism and trade depends on reducing border crime.
"This is safety for peoples on both sides of the border,’’ she said. "And it’s jobs on both sides of the border.’’
Bours said Friday he is using his authority to set up checkpoints where police will not only look for criminals but also begin taking some names and fingerprints.
The goal, he said, is to establish a database of those who travel regularly to the border and to check against U.S. records to see if they are wanted in this country.
Bours also promised to have more police patrolling border communities and popular tourist sites.
Napolitano said the new DPS stolen vehicle task force also will be on the lookout for any vehicles that intelligence sources indicate are taking large sums of U.S. dollars into Mexico, money that likely would come from drug or immigrant smuggling.
The 12 DPS officers in the task force originally were going to be assigned to help local police agencies who come across large groups of illegals.
Napolitano had offered to have the DPS officers trained by federal agencies to deal with illegal entrants and to transport them to federal detention facilities. But Napolitano said federal officials haven’t agreed to her proposal, first offered in early July.
Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said Friday that local officers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have been cool to the idea.
Homeland Security officials in Washington said Friday they were surprised by Napolitano’s criticism. Just a month ago, state and federal officials discussed better cooperation at a Flagstaff immigration summit called by the governor, said Russ Knocke, a Homeland Security spokesman.
Since the summit, the federal agency has working on several ideas including training for state DPS officers, an invitation to join a human smuggling task force, and more coordination with state prison officials to identify and deport inmates in the country illegally as they finish their prison sentences, Knocke said.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will explain details of the federal proposal in a letter to Napolitano, Knocke said.
"Bear in mind what we are talking about is quite innovative and quite complex," Knocke said. "There are a number of issues you have to work through, particularly when it comes to immigration. We believe you have to do it right."
Knocke also defended the agency’s efforts to step up border enforcement, referring to recent increases in the number of immigration agents assigned to Arizona and last year’s project to crack down on drop houses.
He also said the agency has responded to 35,000 requests in the last year from state and local law enforcement for help in identifying and detaining suspected illegal immigrants.