In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano reiterated the Obama Administration's plan to push for Comprehensive Immigration Reform legislation early next year.
In her opening statement, Napolitano said:
Finally, we look forward to working with you on immigration reform. The President is committed to that. He is committed to reform that includes serious, effective and sustained enforcement, that includes improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm way to deal with those already illegally in the country.
We need to demand responsibility and accountability from everyone involved. The Department of Homeland Security, our law enforcement partners, businesses who must be able to find the workers they need here in America, and immigrants themselves as we enforce the law moving forward.
So I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman and Senator Sessions and others on this Committee to develop a path forward early next year to reform the immigration system as a whole.
Napolitano's testimony yesterday echoed her November 13th speech at the Center for American Progress, where she laid out a vision of a "three-legged stool" that includes "a commitment to serious and effective immigration enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here."
Importantly, Napolitano again gave us a timeline - and as the President himself has stated:
[I]f there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town.
Providing a timeframe is yet another indicator of a real commitment from the White House to keep the President"s campaign promises on immigration reform. Not to mention, it further disabuses the conventional wisdom that immigration reform just won't move in this Congress.
We also saw real leadership from the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). He offered unequivocal support for sensible immigration reform, stating:
"Sensible enforcement of current law will not by itself solve our nation's immigration problems...We need reform, comprehensive reform. The immigration system is broken."
Senator Al Franken (D-MT) also distinguished himself as a forceful advocate for reform at the hearing yesterday. He spoke eloquently about the current problems in our detention system for immigrants, noting the 104 deaths of immigrants in those federal facilities since 2003. Franken added a human element that too often gets lost in these discussions.
On the other hand, the leading Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, with his long and tawdry history on the issue of immigration, did not fail to disappoint in his comments to the committee. He called on DHS to return to the Bush era of highly politicized, ineffectual and inhumane workplace raids, which put the focus of immigration enforcement on rounding up undocumented immigrants in massive, military-style operations, instead of going after employers who knowingly exploit the system.
Senator Sessions showed his true colors during the Sotomayor debate - and made it obvious again yesterday that we can expect more of the same when immigration hits the Senate floor.
While many of her comments focused on deploying "smarter" enforcement strategies, Secretary Napolitano made clear again yesterday her intentions to put the Administration's muscle behind working with Congress to pursue comprehensive immigration reform legislation in early 2010.
This muscle will be pivotal in the next couple of months as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) are gearing up to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
It's looking more and more like 2010 will be the time for politicians of all political parties to set aside partisanship, to do what's right for the country, and to provide a lasting fix to this intractable problem.
Note: Cross-posted at America"s Voice.