Napolitano: Immigration Issues Don’t Merit Constitutional Changes
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JEFFREY BROWN: Secretary Napolitano, welcome.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: At that briefing today, you were asked if the $600 million is enough, and you said this is what we asked for, and of course what we asked for is what we thought would be enough.
So the question is, enough for what? What will this accomplish?
JANET NAPOLITANO, Homeland Security Secretary: What we’re doing is making sure that we have a safe and secure border region from San Diego all the way to Brownsville. And that means manpower, it means technology, it means infrastructure, it means interior enforcement. All, you know, kind of layered in appropriate ways, and making sure, like I said before, the border is safe and secure.
JEFFREY BROWN: Does it mean stopping the flow, does it mean stopping the violence or stemming? I mean, give us a range here of how you think about it.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, the violence is mostly in Mexico itself, at least the violence that people are worried about. And so we want to make sure that violence does not spill over into our communities that are along the border. And it means having operational control between the ports of entry. And we also want to make sure that legitimate traffic through those ports of entry flows very smoothly and efficiently.
JEFFREY BROWN: But I would love to you fill in the picture a little bit, because there is a lot of rhetoric, of course, on all of this about the border and security.
What exactly is the situation? Our recent numbers suggest that the flow has diminished —
JANET NAPOLITANO: Substantially.
JEFFREY BROWN: — maybe perhaps because of the economy, and that some of the reports of violence are — it’s not as bad as sometimes we hear. Now, what is your — describe the picture that you see.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Right. And I think it’s — you know, I’ve been involved in working on law enforcement along the border for 17 years both as a U.S. attorney and attorney general and as a governor. So I know this border very, very well.
And the plain fact of the matter is, is that all of the numbers are trending in the right direction. Illegal immigration going down; seizures of drugs, weapons, cash going up. And so we want to make sure that we sustain that, that that’s not just a temporary thing but that is something that is permanent.
JEFFREY BROWN: And so the obvious question of why send more if things are trending in the right direction?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Because there is always more that we can do. And again, part of the reason for that trend is we have temporarily deployed assets to the border since March of 2009.
We want to make those deployments permanent. And so what the Congress did in a bipartisan way is passed a decisional funding at the president’s request to make sure that we can have additional assets, but also make permanent the new assets that we already had moved to the border itself.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you did have bipartisan support, but quickly Arizona Senators McCain and Kyl came out today with a statement. They refer to this as just a start, and they cited several places where you could have more funding and more projects and more things they would like to be done. You think this is enough for now?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I think so. And I think that, again, what we want to make sure that we do is, don’t just throw money at the border, but do things that work, do things that make sense, do things that are efficient, and again establish control along that whole 2,000-mile-long border. And as we do that, let’s make sure that we’ve got the right mix — the right mix of manpower, the right mix of technology, the right mix of infrastructure.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you referred to the violence on the other side of the border, in Mexico, and in our setup we talked about these meetings in Mexico City today. How much of a danger is there in terms of spreading to the U.S.? And are you getting the kind of cooperation that you want from Mexican officials?
JANET NAPOLITANO: You know, we are working very closely with Mexican officials in the Calderon administration, and in a much more direct way than we ever have before. And that is something that we know will continue. And there are some unique partnerships that have evolved out of that.
But we also know that parts of Mexico , Ciudad Juarez, for example, have experienced really unbelievable violence. And so we also want to make sure that that doesn’t itself enter into the United States. Right now the communities along the border are, by statistics, anyway, among the safest in the United States.
JEFFREY BROWN: But the problem over on that side does not seem to have abated at all.
JANET NAPOLITANO: It’s a terrific problem, and it may be in part because President Calderon is really going after those cartels. And so you have violence that results from that, and violence between cartels fighting over, you know, fewer and fewer miles of real estate.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, coming back to U.S. policy and politics, the larger question of comprehensive immigration reform which does not seem to be going anywhere in Congress, could one look at this, what you have done today, the new law, as a kind of political cover in a sense for the lack of something larger which the president has wanted?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I look at it very differently. I think that we want a safe and secure border area. This is a great set of tools that will add to what we’ve already done to make sure we have that.
At the same time, however, we do need comprehensive immigration reform. The president has been very, very firm on that.
He’s met with the leaders of the Congress, both parties. He’s endorsed a framework that was constructed by Senators Schumer and Graham. He gave a major address at an American University just a few weeks ago.
So he continues to invite Congress to the table but, again, he needs some Republicans to cross over to get it done.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, do you see any prospects of that, particularly as we’re entering into an election season?
JANET NAPOLITANO: You know, I think so. You know, between now and the election, very, very difficult. But —
JEFFREY BROWN: Where do you see it?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, I think in conversations with members of the Senate and others, they all recognize that the issue of immigration is important. It’s important to our nation, it’s important to our public safety, it’s important to our security, it’s important to our economic well-being moving forward. And it’s not something that’s going to go away. So at some point leadership will have to come to the table, both parties, particularly Republicans, and work this problem out.
JEFFREY BROWN: And one other issue that has been in the air in recent days, which is the talk of repealing part of the 14th Amendment, the so-called birthright citizenship language. At the briefing today you were asked about it and you said flat out, it’s wrong. Why?
JANET NAPOLITANO: It is wrong. There’s no need to open the United States Constitution to deal with immigration issues, particularly when you haven’t done the first thing, which is to look at the underlying statutes and make sure that our statutory immigration scheme really fits the needs of the 21st century.
There are changes that need to be made in enforcement. There’s changes that need to be made in terms it of worker flows. There are changes that need to be made so that those in the country illegally get right with the law.
They would pay a fine. They would learn English. They establish that they’ve paid taxes and that they have a crime-free record so that they can come out of the shadows.
JEFFREY BROWN: But do you think that this movement has anger behind it? Do you know it in your own state, original states — I mean, your state of Arizona, you’ve seen it. You’ve seen anger, and there’s a lot of energy behind something, doing something like this.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Right. And when I hear the “do something,” sometimes I think they don’t know or we haven’t made manifests all that is being done.
And the plain fact of the matter is, is that in the last 18 months, more resources have been deployed to the Southwest border than at any time in the United States history. And the bill President Obama signed this morning will enable us not only to grow that, but to sustain it.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Thank you very much.
JANET NAPOLITANO: Thank you.