WASHINGTON -- Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, defended the administration's new deportation policy on Tuesday, saying she expects more undocumented immigrants convicted of other crimes to be deported. If states want to see more deportations overall or more funding of border security, though, she said they need to look to Congress.
"The numbers are going to be very robust in terms of numbers of removal -- we don't fool around about this," Napolitano said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "Our border enforcement is second to none."
The administration announced earlier this month that it would conduct a case-by-case review of 300,000 deportation cases, closing those that are deemed low-priority because they involve undocumented immigrants who haven't committed other crimes. Meanwhile, the government is expanding its ability to catch undocumented immigrants using the ongoing Secure Communities enforcement program.
The combined effect should be to deport more criminals and fewer undocumented people who are merely living their lives in the United States, Napolitano said.
"As Secure Communities gets implemented and as it works as it should ... I expect that the ratio of [criminal to noncriminal] will increase" among those deported, she said. "I think the noncriminal number will drop under Secure Communities."
Some conservatives have been critical of the new deportation policy, arguing it will allow some undocumented people to go free. "Obama issues executive amnesty to illegals," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a vocal proponent of harsher immigration enforcement, tweeted last week. "Deportation is inconvenient. No criminals deported unless 'serious.' I insist on [congressional] hearings."
Napolitano said the policy is a matter of prosecutorial discretion, which is necessary because Congress does not appropriate enough funds to deport all of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.
"Congress should look at numbers if they want more deportations," she said.
She also called on Congress to deal with the issue of border security funding on the heels of a letter from GOP presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry requesting $349 million to cover the cost of incarcerating undocumented immigrants in his state. Perry billed the Department of Homeland Security for allegedly doing too little to secure the border, saying the cost of incarcerating undocumented people was being left to the states.
It's a complaint that Napolitano herself made when she was governor of Arizona, and she joked that Perry seemed to have copied her letter and substituted Texas. But she said border security is stronger than ever and that such a request should go to Congress.
"This is not something that Congress has been willing to appropriate funds for," Napolitano said. Her role, she said, "is to do everything I can to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who enter Texas and Arizona and New Mexico."
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