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Napolitano: 'Border security first' an excuse to not reform immigration

New efforts should target employee verification, DHS secretary says
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New efforts on immigration enforcement should focus on employee verification rather than border security, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at a Feb. 13 Senate hearing.

"Those enforcement efforts are better spent on the interior of the country, on things like workplace enforcement, while we sustain...things that we have already planned for along the border itself," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Napolitano argued that the market for illegal workers drives illegal immigration, and that effective employee verification would reduce flows across the border.

"Too often, the 'border security first' refrain simply serves as an excuse for failing to address the underlying problems. It also ignores the significant progress and efforts that we have undertaken over the past four years," she said.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), though, pointed out that Customs and Border Protection has lacked a tool to measure its progress on border security since it dropped its "operational control" metric in 2010. That term described areas where CBP conducts continuous detection and interdiction with a high probability of immediate apprehension.

"I realize it's an imperfect measure, but it's something," Lee said.

Napolitano said she didn't think CBP should revive the metric, adding that "any one- or two-line description of what is border security" would be inadequate.

While she emphasized the importance of employee verification, she also acknowledged the challenges the system faces, especially with agricultural workers.

"One of the problems is they're out in the fields," she said. "We have been looking at and testing mobile sites that can travel around and other kinds of technology that we can use to...put the E-Verify system where the growers are."

"E-Verify, controlling employment, is a virtual fence all of its own," added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "If we can't come up with a system where our employers can tell the difference between somebody here legally and illegally, we're never going to address this problem" of illegal immigration.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (archived webcast and prepared testimonies available)

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