Senior White House Correspondent Major Garrett spoke exclusively today with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Arizona's new immigration law and the renewed push in Washington for comprehensive reform.
Napolitano is a former Democratic governor of Arizona. She resisted efforts now law in Arizona that empower local law enforcement to verify legal residency. Napolitano discussed that law and other immigration issues.
GARRETT: The president talked about comprehensive immigration reform. I spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, a lot of folks I talked to think it's just too hard a push this year, that it's not the right time for it. Why does the administration believe, not only it's the right time but this is the right set of ideas to push at this particular time?
NAPOLITANO: Because of what's already happened. We had a number of meetings with members of congress of both parties. There was a bipartisan statement of principles put out about a month ago by Senators Schumer and Graham, whom we have been working with. The president has supported that bipartisan framework. A lot of the staff work has been done in terms of technical drafting that goes into a piece of legislation like that. So now it's really up to the Senate and whether they can form and forge that bipartisan consensus
GARRETT: When are we likely to see an actual piece legislation, something more specific and more definitive than a statement of principles?
NAPOLITANO: That's impossible to predict. all I can say is that we've been providing assistance to the senators, to the members of the Hill actually for quite some time so when they have forged their consensus, when they've agreed on the framework. And again it should be done in a bipartisan way that a bill can move forward very quickly.
GARRETT: There are many Americans who say "Is this the right time with unemployment at 9% or in that general vicinity" talk about guest worker, arrangements to have other mechanisms that sounded to them like interesting, may be important but not as important as their own future, their own jobs. How would you respond to that?
NAPOLITANO: I can appreciate those concerns. and I the president is deeply appreciative as well and understanding of those concerns. But as a nation, now I'm talking as your homeland security secretary, this is a security issue for us in addition to a labor issue. This is important for us to know who's in the country, how long they're allowed to stay, it's important for us to have better enforcement tools at our command. The tools we have now are outdated and outmoded. We really need an immigration system that's better devised for the 21st century. So this is something that we can keep saying "well we can do it now, whatever." It's something that the president is working with the Senate and is urging them to form a bipartisan consensus and coalitions so it can move forward.
GARRETT: And the president said today, the longer Washington fails to address this the more likely you're going to have states step into the more breach. He mentioned Arizona, a state you're former governor of, you dealt with this issue when you were governor. What's going on in the state there? Is that a problem? States taking their own initiative and does that complicate a federal solution?
NAPOLITANO: It does. I think it's symptomatic. When the federal government is not viewed moving, particularly when its not moved on immigration reform, the states will feel compelled to do their own thing. Let me talk a little bit about what we have been doing at the Southwest border because uh I don’t want there to be any mistake. I came to this office from Arizona, I know that border. I walked it, I've ridden it, I've flown it. I was the attorney general there, and the US attorney there. We've put more resources into the Arizona border than ever before. More border patrol agents, more technology and the numbers indeed show the border itself is more under control than it has ever been. Are we at zero? no. But have we deployed resources in a straight, smart and strategic way to get those numbers down? Absolutely. And in addition we've been doing more work side enforcement, record numbers of criminal alien deportations. The highest ever. So Our enforcement strategy is very strong and the numbers all back that up. So even though we're stuck legislatively, you know so to speak. In other words, CIR hasn't moved forward, meaning comprehensive immigration reform, the operational side of this has been going forward very strongly
GARRETT: Is there a perception problem then? In Arizona where you said all these wonderful things are happening, the numbers back it up. There seems to be a political reaction that says it's not happening and we need to do something else. Something the president, now the Justice Department may look at, may lead to profiling, caused a tremendous sense of anxiety among the Latino community in Arizona. Other states along that are worried about it too. What accounts for this gap?
NAPOLITANO: There is a perception problem. And it is something that happens, it happens. Part of this is, in part, because there was a horrific murder down at the border, of a long time Douglas rancher--an outrageous crime. We were actually pouring resources into that with Mexico to find the actually shooter. A rancher who was shot to death. But that happened right at the border. Is there less on the border than before? absolutely not, there's more on the border than before. Have we reduced border patrol agents? No, we've added border patrol agents. Have we reduced technologies? No. have we stopped putting infrastructure & other types of things at that border? yes. Are we at record lows in numbers of apprehensions of illegal immigrants because of the things at the border? Absolutely? Have we removed or deported from the country a record number of criminal aliens? That would be true as well and we're going to keep doing it.