Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano jumped into the DREAM Act fray on Thursday, urging Congress to pass the controversial legislation that would allow some foreign-born young people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children to become legal residents.
The law would help Napolitano's department focus on deporting immigrants with criminal records, she said.
The Senate failed in September to pass the DREAM Act. The bill is in the pile of legislation awaiting action in the final days of the current Congress and it's unclear whether lawmakers will vote on it again before the year ends.
The bill applies to immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before 16, have been in the country at least five years and have a U.S. high school diploma or equivalent. It would let them become U.S. residents after they've spent two years in college or the military.
Napolitano said it doesn't make sense for her department to spend time and resources prosecuting young people who don't have criminal records and who didn't have a say in when they came to this country.
"What makes sense is to allow these young people a way to adjust their immigration status that is firm but fair," Napolitano told reporters during a White House-organized conference call. President Barack Obama also supports the bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.