Napolitano calls for 'reality check' in immigration enforcement debate

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called for a “reality check” of the country’s debate over immigration enforcement.

Napolitano, speaking at American University on Wednesday, defended the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement policies as being “smart and effective” while saying the George W. Bush administration's “made no sense” and did not prioritize the government’s limited resources.

She also pressured Congress to tackle a reform measure and blasted Republican criticism of the Obama administration’s policies.

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Republicans have criticized the White House’s new enforcement policies, which allow immigration officers to place an emphasis on arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes over those who are in the country illegally but have not been arrested for other crimes. Republicans say this is a backdoor path to citizenship.

Napolitano said the rising number of deportations show her agency is doing its job to enforce the law.

“We cannot, on the one hand, be on the verge of removing, for the third consecutive year, a record-breaking number of unlawful individuals from this country with the highest number of criminal removals in American history and, at the same time, be abrogating our law enforcement responsibilities,” Napolitano said.

“Exercising discretion with more speed and better prioritization than at any time in history, protecting victims of domestic violence, engaging in worksite enforcement rather than workforce raids is not cosmetic tinkering. It is real change with real results,” she said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) immediately shot back at Napolitano, saying in a statement that “the Obama administration has abandoned worksite enforcement, allowing illegal workers to take jobs that should go to American workers.”

Napolitano said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had stopped the Bush administration practices of large-scale raids on worksites because they “made no sense.”

“Public safety wasn't enhanced by these raids,” she said. “And they sometimes required hundreds of agents and thousands of hours to complete. As a result, while the agents were busy conducting these high-profile raids, criminal aliens were free to roam our streets. This made no sense.”

Napolitano outlined the steps the department has taken under her guidance, which focuses on removing “public safety and national security threats.”

She said ICE has expanded its investigations and criminal-tracking programs, partnered with the Border Patrol to clamp down on recent border crossers, increased audits and criminal prosecutions of employers who hire undocumented workers, and focused arrests on repeat immigration law offenders and fugitives.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the chairwoman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security, held a hearing on the administration’s new policies Tuesday. She voiced the criticism of many Republicans, saying that it grants “administrative amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.”

“Either we are a nation of laws or we are not, period,” Miller said. “Telling illegal aliens that we are not really looking for them unless they commit additional serious crimes is a mistake and will serve to encourage more illegal immigration, and as a result, will make the job of Border Patrol agents charged with defending the nation that much harder.”

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher testified at the hearing that the new policies had helped the Border Patrol do its job better and freed up space within detention centers for the most dangerous of criminal illegal immigrants.

Napolitano said the new policies “do not constitute amnesty. They reflect the judicious and intelligent use of resources, common sense and prioritization.”

She outlined several, specific examples of successful immigration enforcement cases under the Obama administration’s policies.

In one instance, ICE prioritized the removal of a Mexican man living illegally in the U.S. who was wanted for murder in Mexico over the removal of a Mexican citizen in the U.S. illegally who was the “sole provider for his American citizen spouse.”

In another example, ICE prioritized the removal of a Chinese man in the country illegally who had been convicted of aggravated assault and weapons offenses over a 10th-grade boy who came to the U.S. as a child and did not receive his citizenship.