The Obama administration expects Congress to begin moving to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws early next year, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday, adding that improved border security and a drop in migration caused by the economic downturn make such changes “far more attainable” than in 2007.
“When Congress is ready to act, we will be ready to support them,” said Napolitano, President Obama’s “point person” on immigration policy issues. “The first part of 2010, we will see legislation beginning to move,” she said.
Napolitano’s speech, delivered at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, was aimed at Latino advocates who have expressed skepticism that Obama would fulfill a campaign pledge to push for a “comprehensive” immigration package.
At the same time, Napolitano sought to reframe the debate from past years, saying lawmakers’ earlier demands that the government improve “enforcement first” have been met. She argued that the time to work on immigration issues is when a sluggish economy is dampening illegal migration.
In recent years, the U.S. government has built more than 600 miles of fencing and pedestrian barriers on the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, and more than doubled the ranks of the U.S. Border Patrol, to 20,000 officers, Napolitano said. Meanwhile, because of a shrinking job market and increased enforcement, Border Patrol arrests last year were less than half the 2005 level of 1.2 million.
“These are major differences that should change the immigration conversation. . . . We have gotten Congress’s message she said. “Trust me: I know a major shift when I see one, and what I have seen makes reform far more attainable this time around.”