By Lisa Riley Roche, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY – Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer demanded the federal government do a better job of protecting her state's borders during a National Governors Association discussion on homeland security Saturday.
"We are feeling pain," Brewer told a panelist, Department of Homeland Security Deputy Commissioner David Aguilar. "We need more help. We need more people. We need more troops. We need our border secured."
Aguilar cited statistics suggesting the number of illegal border crossings has declined dramatically, including along the Arizona border, since 1.6 million people were apprehended in 2000.
Still, he said, there's more work to be done in Arizona, where 106,000 people were caught trying to enter the country illegally in just the past 10 months.
"We're actually calling it our last stand," Aguilar said, pledging that it is not a question of if the border will be under control, but when.
Brewer, the chairwoman of a special NGA committee on homeland security and public safety meeting here as part of the association's three-day annual gathering, said Arizonans are concerned for their safety.
"We hear of the incredible drug cartel-related violence south of the border and have seen with our own eyes some of that violence move north to Arizona," she said, citing the recent death of a border patrol agent.
Aguilar said many law enforcement officials in Arizona and elsewhere are saying the border has become safer despite the level of violent crime in Mexico.
He said the demand for cheap labor and narcotics from south of the border is fueling the flow of undocumented workers and criminals dealing in drugs.
Because of that demand, stemming the tide of illegal entries along the southern border means the problem will shift to the coasts, Aguilar said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno told the panel that's already his administration's No. 1 issue. Illegal drugs and illegal arms are already coming into the U.S. commonwealth.
"It is getting truly out of hand," Fortuno said, adding his own request for federal help. "Certainly we want success on the southern border. But the 'third' border is important."
Aguilar said Homeland Security recognizes Puerto Rico as another border and acknowledged more resources are needed for the Caribbean island.
Arizona, Brewer said, will continue to come up with its own legislation to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, such as a law recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court that punishes employers who hire illegal aliens.
Utah legislators have looked to Arizona's laws, including a controversial measure still tied up the courts that would require authorities to check the identity of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Brewer told reporters after the panel discussion that despite boycott threats, tourism in Arizona is doing better than ever according to the latest estimates.
"The people across America and in Arizona I think chose to support Arizona," she said. "They did that by coming to visit. They came and they spent their money. I think they support what we're doing here."
Her plea for more federal help came as the NGA's meetings were winding down. The annual gathering ends Sunday.
"It's good when we get the opportunity to speak to someone at the federal level," Brewer said, noting she's already met with Aguilar in Arizona.
"But today at this forum, I think that it highlights to the other governors and the people who are in attendance, just exactly what Arizona is facing."
She said the federal government hasn't "stepped up to the level that is needed. We just keep demanding more and more. Hopefully, with dialog like this, we'll get their attention."
Brewer made a point of privately thanking Aguilar after the meeting for his participation.
"I want to make sure," he said, "that you understand we're going to continue to work very hard."