By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010; A02
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will station an aerial drone in Texas as part of its stepped-up surveillance of criminal trafficking along the Mexican border.
Federal authorities also have signed an agreement to allow local police from non-border communities to temporarily "deploy" to the border region to assist with security, said Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
"Our Southwest border states have endured more than their share of challenges," said Napolitano, a former Arizona governor. "I share the frustration border communities feel."
In a speech at a Washington think tank, Napolitano laid out the case that the "border is as secure now as it has ever been."
She also said that some "are looking to score political points" by depicting the border as far more dangerous than it really is. "The numbers tell the story, and they do not lie," she said.
Even as killings have increased in Mexico, violent crime is down along the U.S. side of the border, she said. At the same time, seizures of illegal weapons, drugs and cash have risen.
Nevertheless, Napolitano acknowledged that more can be done. On Tuesday, President Obama asked Congress for $500 million in emergency border security, including two more aerial drones and 1,000 more Border Patrol officers to join 1,200 National Guard troops heading to the region.
Many of the steps Napolitano outlined have long been advocated by Texas Republicans -- and created a side dispute over Obama's choice for the No. 2 position at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) had pressed for months for a pilotless drone, and when it was slow in coming, Cornyn blocked Senate confirmation of Michael Huerta to be deputy director of the FAA.
On Wednesday, after learning that the agency had given its approval for the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, to operate in Texas, Cornyn said he would allow a vote on Huerta.
"While the approval process should not have taken this long, I'm pleased to see the FAA moving forward," he said. "The FAA needs to implement a system that will reflect the great importance of border security as well as the growing significance of UAVs in homeland security and national defense."
Unmanned aircraft are used routinely in Iraq and Afghanistan and also patrol much of the Arizona border, using sensors to pinpoint trafficking activity. The vehicle being stationed in Texas has the ability to fly for 20 hours. It will arrive at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi this summer.
Later this month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who recently signed into law tough new state controls on immigration, will meet with administration officials for the second time.