Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that the Obama administration is “urgently awaiting” immigration reform legislation being drafted by a bipartisan group of senators, adding that critics’ efforts to separate border security benchmarks from a larger comprehensive reform package are mere stalling tactics.
“The notion that we have to secure our border first is kind of another way of saying ‘we don’t really want to deal with immigration reform,’ right?” Napolitano said during a panel at the National League of Cities conference in Washington DC. “We keep moving that goalpost.”
Napolitano, the former governor of border state Arizona, told the group of city officials that the federal government has implemented unprecedented security measures at the border in terms of manpower and technology, reducing the flow of illegal immigrants into the country to decades-old lows.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlines the progress being made on securing the U.S.-Mexico border and where lawmakers stand on a comprehensive immigration bill.
“We have driven down the numbers, so that the number of illegal immigration attempts is at 40-year lows,” she said. “We haven’t seen these kinds of numbers since the early 1970s.”
Napolitano said the president is of supportive of the “Gang of Eight” Senate group that is working behind closed doors to craft legislation, and she urged quick unveiling of those congressional proposals.
“He is urgently awaiting the product that emerges, hopefully sooner rather than later,” she said.
While senators have been relatively mum on the status of the negotiations, recent reports have indicated that they are close to consensus on the bill's path to legal status for illegal immigrants as well as on some border security proposals.
President Barack Obama has been criticized by some reform advocates for failing to address immigration during his first term, a promise he made on the campaign trail during his first presidential run.
Napolitano said Tuesday that reform likely couldn’t have been achieved four years ago – but now the time is right.
“When I came here to serve as Secretary, it was not the time. There just weren’t enough people ready to dive in and there were other issues that were crowding the calendar for the Senate floor and the House floor,” she said. “But now is the time when this issue rises to the top.”
This story was originally published on Tue Mar 12, 2013 10:40 AM EDT