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Immigration Reform Waits Its Turn

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Immigration Reform Waits Its Turn

National Security

Immigration Reform Waits Its Turn

Immigration Reform Waits Its Turn

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With the health care debate dominating the political discourse, some other Obama administration priorities have been put on hold. One of them is immigration reform. Host Scott Simon speaks with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about immigration reform and about illegal immigrants who get deported and then return to the U.S. to commit more crimes.


With the health care debate dominating political discourse now, some other Obama administration priorities have been put on hold. One of them is immigration reform. Last week, President Obama said that immigration reform is important but other priorities, including health care and financial regulation, need to come first. But for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, immigration issues are always a top priority. She joins us from her office in Washington, D.C.

Secretary Napolitano, thanks so much for being with us.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): Thank you.

SIMON: The president said he expects to see draft legislation on immigration overhaul by the end of the year. What changes would you like to see?

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, I think what we want to do is change some of the enforcement provisions. For example, in terms of the work site, we want to have a greater emphasis on employers who are actually hiring and exploiting illegal labor. And we need some statutory changes, I think would be helpful there.

I think there's going to be a debate in the Congress about some form of temporary worker program. And there's going to be a debate about what you do with the millions already present in the country illegally. So - and then the fourth area will be really cleaning up or streamlining some of the judicial and court proceedings that need to follow immigration cases. So there are four major areas that need to be addressed.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a story that appeared in the Arizona Republic this week, your old hometown paper.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Mm-hmm?

SIMON: By Daniel Gonzalez, who found that a good number of illegal immigrants who had committed crimes and have actually been deported from the United States just have slipped back and committed more crimes.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Right. Now, that has been an issue, and that is why with ICE, which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we have really changed the direction there to focus on those kinds of criminals, as opposed to just going out and doing what were called raids or sweeps or whatever. So you jack up your numbers. But you're not really getting at those who I think present a public safety risk as well as an immigration violation at the same time. And so when you're doing prosecution, when you're doing apprehensions and the like, you always have to prioritize. And the priorities we are setting are aimed at those that are public safety risks as well as immigration violators.

SIMON: We're coming up on, I believe, the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. How are you set up to respond differently, do you think?

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, I was just in New Orleans on Monday. And I think we've made tremendous progress there. We've eliminated a lot of the bureaucracy that was plugging up the recovery monies. I think since President Obama took office, we've released something over $890 million total for projects in the Gulf Coast area.

And our goal is to keep moving, and we've been working on all those housing issues, public assistance issues, the like. The difference is, I think, that our theme is community recovery and moving quickly and get rid of bureaucracy and the rest that was holding that up. And I think we've done a good job at that. If I do say so myself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But does that open the door for elected agencies and politicians in Louisiana to, if I might put it this way, be creative with the application of those funds? I mean what kind of oversight?

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, there's oversight with the funds. We're not just a funnel for money, but we also have oversight. And I think the key thing we've added as well is for some of these big projects where we just couldn't come to agreement with local officials, we now have an arbitration process set up so that we can move to arbitrate these things and get some final answers, so that the community can move forward and everybody can move past some of these issues that have been holding up New Orleans for quite some time.

SIMON: Secretary Napolitano, is you agency sometimes asked to, from your point of view, work on inconsistent goals? We want to keep the door to America open but we want to keep illegal immigrants out?

Sec. NAPOLITANO: I don't think those are inconsistent goals. I think that's exactly right. We want to work and for those who are following the law, make sure that that process is as smooth as possible, and transparent.

So in the next, I think, 30 or 60 days, one of the things we're doing is putting on a place where people can check and see where their status is, where are they in that process. And they'll just be able to ping it and get online and see it as opposed to, you know, having to call and wait for somebody to answer the phone and then find the file, et cetera, et cetera.

And I'm very clear on enforcement, Scott. I think the intelligent, effective enforcement of immigration laws is very important. And so we are going to continue in that fashion. As I said earlier, I think there's some tools that we could use that would help us. And I also think there's some practices that were being done in the past that we have changed.

SIMON: Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, thanks so much.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Thank you very much.

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