Napolitano: DHS will play role in comprehensive immigration reform debate

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The coming national debate on immigration reform will be a top issue for the Homeland Security Department, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She spoke Jan. 24 at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

"We have deep and wide experience in those issues," Napolitano told the audience, also naming cybersecurity, evolving terrorist threats and looking for indicators of potential violence as other top tier issues.

Napolitano said opposing arguments that greater border security should be a precondition of immigration reform no longer hold force. "The plain fact of the matter is that the border numbers haven't been as low since the early 1970s," she said. The Border Patrol in 2011 made 340,252 apprehensions, the lower number since 1971, according (.pdf) to the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics.

"We've really changed that aspect of the border – more manpower, more technology," Napolitano said. "We're getting to the point of diminishing marginal returns."

A reformed immigration system would in fact improve border security, since authorities would know with better certainty who is crossing the border and where they're going.

Overhauling immigration law was a campaign pledge of President Obama during the past election and the president is set to deliver what's being touted as a major policy speech on the issue in Las Vegas, Nev. this Tuesday. During a Jan. 25 meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Obama said reform will be a top legislative priority, according to a White House statement.

A bipartisan group of senators including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is also at work on an overhaul bill. During a Jan. 27 edition of This Week on television network ABC, McCain said their plan will include a pathway to citizenship for illegals currently living in the United States. "We can't go on forever with 11 million people living in this country in the shadows in an illegal status," he said.

For more:
- watch an archived copy Napolitano's Jan. 24 talk at the Wilson Center
- read a transcript of the talk (.pdf)

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