Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano delivered a passionate defense of the Obama administration’s new emphasis on deporting certain illegal immigrants over others during a speech October 5 at American University.
Speaking as a guest of the school’s Kennedy Political Union, the former Arizona governor outlined the policy of focusing the government’s attention specifically on removing aliens convicted of crimes or deemed national security threats.
“There has never been, nor will there ever be, sufficient resources to remove all those unlawfully in the country,” she told the Bender Arena audience of students, faculty, staff, and national media. “That’s why it’s important to set priorities. It makes sense to [focus] on removing a Mexican citizen who is wanted for murder in his home country ahead of a Mexican national who is the sole provider for his American-citizen spouse. It makes sense to remove a Costa Rican man convicted of sexual assault against a minor before we spend the time and money to send a mother back to her violent and abusive husband in Jamaica, separating her from her American-born children. These are actual examples of the recent exercise in discretion. They do not constitute amnesty.”
Over the past 15 months AU has been a center of discourse on the issue of immigration, which increasingly has become volatile and partisan. In July 2010, President Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform during a speech at AU’s School of International Service.
When Napolitano decided to speak out about the administration’s deportation strategy, she chose AU for a number of reasons.
“One is that it is a great center for discussions of public policy,” she said after a post-speech interview with the Eagle’s Lois Nam, SIS ’13, and ATV’s Nicole Pulley, Kogod ’12.
“They have had a lot of great speakers here; I hope to follow in that tradition. American has a really good relationship with the Department of Homeland Security. We have a lot of interns from American University, and they do a great job for us. We really want to keep building on that relationship. Third, I knew the students would ask tough and fair questions. Since we view our immigration enforcement policies as tough and fair, it seemed like a good match.”
The administration’s immigration policy has been under attack from all sides in recent weeks. As the Associated Press put it, “Republicans say making it a priority to deport [certain] immigrants amounts to a back-door way of granting amnesty to other people who are living in the U.S. illegally but haven't committed crimes. Yet to immigration advocates, the administration is still deporting such illegal immigrants.”
Throughout her 25-minute speech, Napolitano spelled out the thinking behind her department’s efforts.
“When we came into office, the existing immigration enforcement policies allowed as many resources, if not more, to be spent tracking down and deporting the college student as were spent apprehending criminal aliens and gang members,” she said. “We established as a top priority the identification and removal of public safety and national security threats.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2010 deported 195,000 convicted criminals, more than ever before, Napolitano said. Still, that number was less than half of the roughly 400,000 total deportees.
“This year I expect removals will again be at historic levels,” she said. “While the overall number of individuals removed will exceed the prior year, the composition of that number will have fundamentally changed. It will consist of more convicted criminals, recent border crossers, egregious immigration law violators, and immigration fugitives than ever before.
“We will and must enforce our immigration laws. Doing otherwise is not an option. Enforcing those laws in a way that makes sense is neither simple nor easy. We are committed to getting it right.”