Napoli­tano de­fends not pur­su­ing il­le­gals with no crim­i­nal record

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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