Napolitano defends not pursuing illegals with no criminal record
Funding for National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border runs out in another month, but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Aug. 30 that she would like to see them stay there, if Congress or the Defense Department can find the money.
Ms. Napolitano, a former prosecutor and then governor of Arizona who is the Obama administration’s point person on the border and immigration, also defended new guidelines that pro-immigration groups say could halt deportations of 300,000 illegal aliens, saying her goal is to focus on those with criminal records rather than rank-and-file illegal workers and their families.
But she demurred when asked if agencies under her purview are deporting enough illegal aliens.
“Could we deport more if there were funds available, not just to us but to Justice Department, which has to handle all the removal and deportation proceedings at that level? You know, that’s kind of a hard question to answer. Ask Congress,” she said at a round-table hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
The new guidelines she issued three weeks ago give immigration authorities discretion to halt deportation proceedings if they think the process would create a hardship for the illegal alien or his or her family or if the person is in school or from a military family.
Republicans in Congress have called the move backdoor “amnesty” for illegal aliens, and some have called for hearings into the new policy.
For her part, Ms. Napolitano said the goal is to focus on criminals.
Of the 400,000 illegal aliens deported in 2010, about half had criminal records. Ms. Napolitano said she wants to see that ratio change so that more criminals are being deported while the number of noncriminal illegals being deported is reduced.
Asked whether she feared blowback if someone released from deportation proceedings is later charged with a serious crime, she said, “You’ve got to take some risks sometime.”
But she said there is a risk on the other hand of focusing on noncriminal aliens at the expense of getting dangerous gang members and convicts off the streets.
Immigration enforcement usually is divided into two distinct areas: along the border, where the battle is against new arrivals, and in the interior, where authorities grapple with those living and working here illegally, in many cases for decades.
The Obama administration has continued the buildup of U.S. Border Patrol agents begun under President George W. Bush and, like Mr. Bush, has announced its own surge of National Guard troops on the border.
Their deployment has already been extended once, and Ms. Napolitano said she is looking at how to keep them there longer.
“They’re there through the end of the fiscal year. We think it’s a great add-on and a great support to the border agents that are there,” she said.
She said the administration already has asked Congress to reprogram money from her department to the Defense Department to cover costs, but Congress refused.
“So, as in so many things, it comes down to whether DOD has the resources to maintain the guard at the border,” she said.
Homeland Security Secretar y Janet Napolitano (left) takes a helicopter tour Aug. 30 of hurricane damage to North Carolina with Gov. Beverly Perdue (center) and Sen. Kay R. Hagan. That same day, she said she wants the National Guard to stay on the U.S.-Mexico border.