Center for American Progress

: A Discussion on Immigration Policy with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
Past Event

A Discussion on Immigration Policy with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

9:00 - 10:00 AM EST

The pressing need for immigration reform cannot be met by “a single initiative or regulation,” said Center for American Progress CEO and President John Podesta at an event today headlined by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The need for a comprehensive reform of current immigration policies is one that is apparent to law enforcement officials, business and labor leaders, and lawmakers at every level. It is a need Napolitano emphasized as being critical, but also attainable.

The United States’ current national immigration policy is “an affront to every law-abiding citizen and every company that plays by the rules,” said Napolitano. Yet the very laws that are supposed to regulate immigration policy are part of the reason law enforcement agencies are struggling to control immigration. There is a dearth of effectual laws, and there are practical technological problems that are undermining our ability to solve the problem of uncontrolled migration across our borders. In response to the oft-utilized criticism that the government simply does not want to enforce immigration laws, Napolitano stressed that, “DHS needs reform to do our job of enforcing the law.”

Now is the time for such reform. The flow of undocumented persons into the United States has declined by half since the failed initiative of 2007. This is largely a response to recent economic conditions, but it is also due to the efforts of agencies such as DHS that are not waiting idly for reform. The federal government has strengthened security on the southwest border and committed more resources to the area in the wake of increasing violence related to drug cartels and human-smuggling outfits. Napolitano cited these facts as the most powerful impetus for reform. “We have replaced all policies which merely looked tough with those that are effective,” she said.

Advances in enforcement measures are needed, but such advances on their own will never be enough to correct immigration practices. Any effort made toward citizenship status for those aliens already living in the United States will have to require those people to come out of the shadows and enter a law-abiding society. The Obama administration’s stance has consistently held that holding U. S. citizenship carries as many responsibilities as it does rights. Napolitano’s view is that those without status will have to come forward to register, pay a fine, pay taxes, submit to a criminal background check, and begin learning English.

True reform will also have to address the strain placed on families with partial citizenship status. Napolitano said “No one should have to wait in line for years” to reunite with their families. This especially true for those members of the U.S. Armed Services who have taken their oath of enlistment before their oath of citizenship.

The backdrop to immigration reform—and possibly the largest obstacle—is the need for congressional action. Napolitano believes that every member of Congress recognizes the need for immigration reform, but some are skeptical about the chances of legitimate reform occurring at a time when Congress is consumed with health care reform, upcoming environmental legislation, and continuing joblessness.

Napolitano reiterated that immigration reform simply cannot occur in piecemeal fashion. A comprehensive reassessment of worksite enforcement laws and criminal laws is the only viable prospect for solving immigration in the long term. “If you really want to deal with immigration,” she said, “it is best to take up the whole problem.” She also believes that just as the administration is confronting multiple problems at once, it is not beyond Congress’s capacity to multitask, that “[Congress] too can focus on many issues simultaneously.”

The DHS and other law enforcement agencies are doing all they can to tackle illegal immigration. Yet enforcement alone, however, will not end the problem. There are critical measures that must be passed by Congress in order to solve the present immigration problem and secure the long-term security and solvency of American civil society. Undaunted, Napolitano concluded simply by saying, “We can fix this.”

Introduction by:

John Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for American Progress

Featured speaker:

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

Moderated by:

Angela M. Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, Center for American Progress

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