Today, Secretary Janet Napolitano delivered remarks to a packed audience of students, faculty, law enforcement, state and local government officials, and immigration policy experts at American University. The goal of her speech was to reset the dialogue on this complex and important issue, and set the record straight on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) approach to immigration enforcement and border security.
Secretary Napolitano sought to debunk the myths about the state of border security:
“As someone who grew up in New Mexico and spent most of my adult life in Arizona, and who has walked the border, flown it, ridden it on horseback, and worked with border communities from Brownsville to San Diego, I can say that the border security measures we have taken constitute the most innovative and effective approach our country has ever deployed.”
But you don’t have to take our word for it, mayors, police chiefs, community leaders, and an array of publications have all noted this, and continue to say that the border is safe and open for business.
Over the past two and a half years, DHS has developed a smart, effective approach to immigration enforcement that puts clear priorities, in place and in practice:
“Simply put, we have worked, and continue to work, to make sure that the limited resources we have been given are applied in a way that enhances public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system, while respecting the rule of law.
As part of that process, ICE has adopted new policies, including a new process that ensures that those enforcing immigration laws make appropriate use of the discretion they already have in deciding the types of individuals we prioritize for removal from the country.”
These efforts are showing real results. In 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed over 195,000 convicted criminals, more than had ever been previously removed by ICE, and 81,000 more than it removed in FY 2008. For the first time in decades, 50% of undocumented immigrants removed by ICE had been convicted of a criminal offense. And more than two-thirds of those in this category who were removed in 2010 were either recent border crossers or repeat violators.
Finally, Secretary Napolitano reiterated the need for meaningful reforms to our immigration laws, which can only be accomplished through legislative actions. The Obama Administration has laid out its blueprint for immigration reform and will continue to urge Congress to act. But we need advocates on all sides of the issue to work with us and continue to make the case for comprehensive immigration reform to their representatives in Washington.
In the meantime, DHS will look for ways to improve and refine its enforcement strategies. DHS will continue to enforce our immigration laws but also exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis where appropriate and responsible. Most importantly, DHS will continue to engage with communities across the country in an effort to provide the facts about what is going on, on the ground. As Secretary Napolitano noted:
“We cannot, on the one hand, be on the verge of removing, for the third consecutive year, a record-breaking number of unlawful individuals from this country, with the highest number of criminal removals in American history and, at the same time, be abrogating our law enforcement responsibilities.
Similarly, exercising discretion with more speed and better prioritization than at any time in history, protecting victims of domestic violence, engaging in worksite enforcement rather than workforce raids is not cosmetic tinkering. It is real change, with real results.
Vesting discretion in our immigration enforcement officers and immigration lawyers is not amnesty. It is a prioritization system that begins with finding and removing individuals who are criminals and repeat offenders. At the same time, our officers have the legal responsibility to remove unlawful individuals from this country. They will do so according to our priorities. But they will do their jobs. “
To read Secretary Napolitano’s full remarks, click here.