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White House drug policy chief calls immigration reform a priority

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PHOENIX – During trips to the border over the past four years, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said Thursday that he’s seen better technology along with more officers.

But most importantly, Gil Kerlikowske said, he’s seen an increase in communication among not only the local, state and federal governments but their counterparts across the border.

“It’s not only important that we recognize that – and we have as we know increased our drug seizures along the border significantly, the seizure of firearms going south and the seizure of money, which is critical for cutting off the head of the snake of the cartels,” he said.

Kerlikowske made the comments as he joined Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and the mayors of Surprise and Avondale to discuss local and federal efforts to address drug trafficking. The conversations also touched on border security and immigration reform.

In an interview afterward, Kerlikowske cited declines in cocaine and methamphetamine use in the U.S. but said synthetic drugs such as spice and bath salts are a challenge for law enforcement.

“Synthetic drugs, which can can be produced anywhere, are a serious concern, but I think that the more education and prevention we do, that works the best,” he said.

Stanton, meanwhile, said he told Kerlikowske that comprehensive immigration reform, supported by President Barack Obama, is important to Arizona’s economy.

“It’s a tough issue,” Stanton said. “There are a lot of different aspects on it, but we can’t let the differences in defining border security prevent us from accomplishing this goal.”

Kerlikowske said his experience in local law enforcement showed that current immigration policy doesn’t enhance public safety.

“The president has made it very clear that all of the senior policy advisers in the White House have an obligation to work on – and this goes back to my law enforcement experience of nearly four decades – an immigration system that’s broken,” he said.

Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott said that addressing immigration reform is an important issue for not only Arizona but the country.

“It’s all about bringing us to a point where we can work together not only as individual communities on this side of the border but communities on both sides of the border, and creating the comfort zone so we can have that discussion,” she said.

Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers said immigration reform and securing the border affect all cities and towns.

“Whether you’re in Avondale or Mesa, we are all border cities and we need to see the border as our gate to economic vitality,” she said.

Kerlikowske said he and the president support immigration reform because the border affects more than just the immediate area.

“I pretty quickly realized, exactly as the mayors just said, the border isn’t just in Arizona or Texas, whether it’s in Seattle, Chicago or Denver dealing with these issues,” he said.