The new secretary of homeland security stressed alertness along the U.S.-Mexico border, but during his first official visit to Southern Arizona he did not address recent cartel-related violence in Sonora.
“We have to remain vigilant in the face of evolving challenges to border security,” Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, said during an afternoon stop at the Customs and Border Protection building on South Swan Road.
He said border security is a priority along with making sure the agencies he oversees remain open to using new methods.
Under strict security and flanked by Border Patrol agents, Johnson said that while he believes the Homeland Security Department is doing a good job, his agency must be on the cutting edge to tackle any forthcoming challenges along the Arizona-Sonora border.
“We need to be agile; we need to be creative; we need to look for future threats, for future challenges to border security and not just model ourselves on past challenges,” Johnson said.
In Arizona for only a day, Johnson, who offered a brief news conference, did not touch on recent shootings in Agua Prieta, Sonora, or say if he feared cartel violence might spill over into neighboring Douglas.
Several people were killed in the gun battle early Saturday, and three days earlier reports say three gunmen were slain in an Agua Prieta neighborhood. And in December, several people died in a violent clash in Rocky Point between members of a drug cartel and the military.
U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who accompanied Johnson during the visit, said after speaking with Cochise County residents that he believes last week’s violence in Agua Prieta was not a major issue for constituents.
He noted the Agua Prieta violence has been between apparent trafficking groups.
“This was cartel-on-cartel violence. Life goes on for them. It’s important that the relationship between the people in Douglas and Agua Prieta is maintained, the mayors work well together, the citizens walk back and forth, particularly the Mexican citizens (who) come to Douglas to shop and do business,” Barber said.
“For them, it wasn’t something they wanted to highlight.”
Barber, who is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security and one of only nine members of the House who represent a district on the U.S.-Mexico border, said he was glad that Johnson accepted his invitation to visit Arizona within a month of becoming the head of Homeland Security.
After a reporter asked about recent shootings involving Border Patrol agents, most recently the shooting of an unarmed illegal immigrant killed during a struggle with an agent, Johnson replied that it was an issue he was going to examine.
“When it comes to use of force by law enforcement, by the military, there should be accountability,” Johnson said. “Accountability includes a certain level of transparency when it comes to use of force, standards. I think it’s crucial for law enforcement to have credibility in areas in which they operate.”
Johnson, who spoke with border officials in Texas on Tuesday, spent his visit to Arizona with ranchers and law-enforcement officials to hear their concerns. He said he plans to return to the area.