Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday pressed the nation’s hotel industry to support the Senate’s immigration bill, saying it would strengthen their businesses and bolster security in the United States.

Napolitano told the American Hotel and Lodging Association that the bipartisan immigration reform measure would improve the quality of competition in the hotel industry by enforcing a strict set of verification standards for legal workers that are not currently universal.

“We know that our health and prosperity depends on the ability of businesses like yours applying to maintain a legal and stable workforce,” said Napolitano, speaking at the association’s legislative action summit in Washington, D.C.

“You need assurances that your competitors are flying by the same set of rules and that they’re following the laws as scrupulously as you are. That’s not happening right now.

“The current system makes it too hard for businesses to hire and to retain the lawful workers that they need. It creates significant shortages in many industries that require a steady supply of workers at all skill levels. And it forces many of our best and brightest international students return to their home countries instead of staying in the United States to start their own businesses and create jobs in the United States.”

Napolitano’s remarks to the group of about 100 hotel industry representatives comes the day after she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the merits of the recently unveiled immigration reform bill, crafted by the bipartisan Gang of Eight.

The Homeland Security head, who oversees the majority of immigration enforcement in the country, pressed the hotel industry to embrace the new legislation.

“The discussions underway right now on comprehensive immigration reform will have a bearing on your industry and on our work at the department,” she said. “We are very encouraged by the work of the Senate.

“We think the legislation is a major step forward. It reflects a bipartisan spirit and it addresses a major issue in the United States today. It is time to get to real immigration reform.”

Napolitano explained to the association that the bill increases sanctions against employers for knowingly hiring undocumented workers, while strengthening the national employment verification system over the next 5 years.

Addressing the looming Republican concern that the U.S.-Mexico border needs to be made more secure as part of the immigration deal, Napolitano said the desire for people to get work in the United States is the number one cause of legal and illegal migration.

With a strengthened employment verification system, Napolitano reasoned that it will be more difficult for illegal immigrant to get work, cutting down on the number of people attempting to get into the country unlawfully.

“We need to deal with the demand side of the illegal migration question,” she told the group. “That’s why moving to an employee verification that’s easy, that’s quick, that is accurate, is a way to cut down that major driver of illegal migration. That indeed helps us at the border.

“The bill also modernizes the legal migration system. It has a number of provisions in it, both for temporary and permanent workers. It recasts the visa system. So this is something that you will want to be paying key attention to as the bill moves forward.”