napolitanoAt an April 23rd hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered two messages on behalf of the Obama administration. First, the administration strongly supports the Senate immigration reform bill—S.744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.” Secondly, the administration has, contrary to the claims of its critics, significantly ramped up border security in particular and immigration enforcement in general. In other words, the administration has proven that it can be tough on enforcement even as it advocates the formulation of new immigration laws that are more effective and just than those currently on the books.

Napolitano was the sole witness at the hearing, during which she succinctly summarized, and praised, the multi-faceted and comprehensive nature of the Senate bill. As she testified:

“The bill would continue to strengthen security at our borders and hold employers more accountable if they knowingly hire undocumented workers. It would provide a pathway to earned citizenship for the 11 million individuals who are already in this country illegally. It would also modernize our legal immigration system, allowing families to be reunited in a humane and timely manner and grow our economy by attracting the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and workers who will help create good paying jobs.”

More precisely, she stood behind four principles embodied in the Senate bill and the White House’s stance on immigration reform:

  • Stronger Border Security: The Obama administration has already increased the numbers of Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, as well as investing in more surveillance technology. The Senate bill would continue with this upward trend.
  • Mandatory E-Verify: The Senate bill proposes, and the White House supports, the creation of a mandatory, nationwide system of electronic employee verification (E-Verify), in a drive to create a legal workforce.
  • Earned Legalization with a Path to Citizenship: The bill and the administration call for the creation of “a mechanism to bring the millions of undocumented immigrants unlawfully present in the United States out of the shadows and into a legal, regulated pathway to earned citizenship.”
  • Streamlining Legal Immigration: The bill and the White House advocate improving channels for legal immigration to the United States in myriad ways, such as “updating rules to keep immigrant families together” and drawing more highly skilled immigrants into the U.S. labor force.

The bill was not immune to criticism, however. In his opening statement, for instance, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) supported the bill, but also drew attention to some of its weaknesses:

“I am concerned, however, that what some are calling ‘triggers’ could long delay green cards for those who we want to make full and contributing participants in our society. I do not want people to move out of the shadows only to be stuck in some underclass. Just as we should not fault ‘dreamers’ who were brought here as children, we should not make people’s fates and future status depend on border enforcement conditions over which they have no control. And I am disappointed that the legislation does not treat all American families equally. We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law. I also am concerned about changes to the visa system for siblings and the lack of clarity about how the new point-based visa system will work in practice. And I question whether spending billions more on a fence between the United States and Mexico is really the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

Some members of the committee had knee-jerk emotional reactions to Napolitano’s testimony that were rather devoid of substance. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) announced that he simply didn’t agree with her on matters of border security, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced that he didn’t believe she had time to read the whole bill. These vague critiques notwithstanding, the hearing reflected a high degree of agreement between the White House and the Gang of Eight on the contours of immigration reform. As Napolitano and Leahy both emphasized, the time for immigration reform is long overdue.

Photo Courtesy of C-Span.

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