By Susan Crabtree - 04/27/10 04:42 PM EDT
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared a comprehensive immigration bill dead on arrival if the government does not first do more to secure its borders.
Graham tangled with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano during a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday about the administration’s desire to pass an immigration measure this year.
“I would bet you everything I own that the 2007 [immigration] bill wouldn’t pass this year,” Graham told Napolitano, predicting that the administration will “crash and burn” if it moves forward with a plan to push immigration legislation through Congress before the November elections.
“If immigration comes up this year, it will be absolutely devastating to this issue” and future passage of a comprehensive bill, Graham insisted. “Most Americans think we will have lost our minds if we move forward without securing our border first.”
Graham argued that the drug war raging at the Mexican border needs to be addressed first; then, he said, Congress can act.
“I believe we can do it by 2012 if we’re smart and address the big elephant in the room — the borders are not secure and there’s a [drug] war going on,” he said.
Graham has blasted Senate Democrats for pursuing a bill that would offer legal status to many unlawful immigrants, a move he dismissed as a “cynical political ploy.” Over the weekend, Graham threatened to withdraw his support for energy and climate change legislation if Democrats moved first on immigration.
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, stood her ground at the hearing, continuing to press Congress to take up a reform bill.
“I would bet you everything I own that Congress needs to take up comprehensive immigration reform,” she countered.
“I say this again, as someone who has walked that border, ridden it, flown it and driven it,” she said. “I believe it is as secure as it ever has been.”
The question Congress and the government need to ask is whether the border will ever be secured to anyone’s satisfaction and whether the “goal posts are going to keep moving,” she said.
The comments come against the backdrop of a national debate over a new Arizona law requiring state police to determine whether people are in the United States legally if there is a reason to suspect they aren’t.
The law, scheduled to go into effect in 90 days if there are no legal challenges to it, would require immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times in case they are asked to present them.
In response to several questions about the new law, Napolitano, who twice rejected similar laws when she was governor there, said she and others in the administration have “deep concerns” about it and the Department of Justice is considering whether it is constitutional.
“We have some deep concerns with the law,” she said, because it could detract from and siphon resources away from law enforcement efforts against those who are “committing the most serious crimes.”