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February 25, 2013

Homeland Security's Napolitano says sequester will cause delays

The White House sent out Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Monday to argue that the nation's defenses will be compromised if the looming budget cuts aren't averted. Even a potential terrorist attack?

"We're gonna do everything we can to minimize that risk," Napolitano said. "But the sequester makes it awfully, awfully tough."

 Appearing at the daily press briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, Napolitano delivered a litany of effects, saying the cuts would be "disruptive and destructive to our nation's security and economy" and would "undermine the significant progress we've made over the past 10 years to build the nation's preparedness and resiliency."

She said the cuts would effect trade and travel at the ports because Customs and Border Protection officers would be furloughed. At airports, they'd be limited in accepting new international flights, and average wait times to clear customs would increase by as much as 50 percent. At the busiest airports -- like Newark, JFK, LAX and O'Hare, peak wait times -- already at 2 hours, "could easily grow to four hours or more."

On the southwest border, land ports could face waits of up to five hours; and at the seaports, delays in container exams would increase to up to five days and at cruise terminals, process times could increase up to six hours.

Furloughs and cuts in overtime would also decrease the number of hours Border Patrol has to operate; and the Coast Guard will reduce its presence in the Arctic by a third.

She said Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be forced to reduce detention and removal and wouldn't be able to maintain the 34,000 detention beds as required by Congress. The disaster relief fund would be cut by nearly $1 billion.

She warned that "if you reduce the number of border patrol agents, I think you can say, yes it does affect our ability to keep out illegal migrants and others trying to enter the country."

Her remarks came after Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., accused the administration of looking to scare people about the sequester by warning about its scope. But Napolitano said she wasn't overhyping the cuts, but sharing information.

"I'm not here to scare people," she said. "I'm here to inform, and also to let people begin to plan, because they're going to see these impacts in their daily lives. And they're gonna have to adjust and make their arrangements accordingly."


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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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