- Made strong, rational economic, national security, and humanitarian cases for U.S. immigration reform in 2010
- Recounted vast improvements in immigration law enforcement and border security since 2007, when Congress last debated comprehensive immigration reform
- Described the Obama administration's Three-legged Stool" approach to immigration reform, which includes effective enforcement, improved legal/approval processes for workers and employers, and a "firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here."
Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Janet Napolitano
Center for American Progress
November 14, 2009
Thank you to John Podesta for that warm introduction. John is a good friend of mine, and I admire the work he’s done here at the Center for American Progress to advance the national debate on a range of important issues. John and I have worked together extensively, and I look forward to his continued partnership.
It’s not news to say that these are challenging times. From our first day in office, this new Administration was called on to meet an economic and financial crisis as deep and threatening as we’ve seen since the Great Depression. The President took bold and difficult steps to prevent the collapse of our financial system and reverse the ominous trends of negative growth and massive jobs loss.
Today, thanks in no small part to the Recovery Act and other steps we have taken, the economy is growing again and job losses have slowed. But that progress is fragile, and we can’t let up until all the millions who are looking for work today can find it. Yet we know that surviving this storm isn’t enough if we fail to do the things we must to fortify America for the long run.
That’s why this Administration is taking on the critical challenges that have been ignored in Washington for too long. We are laying a new foundation for growth and prosperity that will strengthen the economy, families and small businesses throughout the country.
- By tackling the issue of health insurance reform, we can bring new security and stability to families and businesses across the country.
- By planting the seeds of growth for a new, clean energy economy, we can open the door to the creation of millions of good jobs and secure America’s continued leadership in this new century.
- By making a serious, national commitment to education reform — which means college or technical training accessible to every young person willing to strive for it — we can insure their success, and America’s success, in a world where the best educated workers and workforce will win.
Clear Need for Immigration Reform
And another problem that has been punted from year to year, from Congress to Congress, from Administration to Administration, is the clear need for immigration reform.
We all know the story: A steady influx of undocumented workers, crossing our borders illegally in search of work and a better life. A market among employers willing to flout the law in order to hire cheap labor. And as a result, some 12 million people, here illegally, living in the shadows—a source of pain and conflict.
It is wrong. It’s an affront to every law-abiding citizen and every employer who plays by the rules.
Like the Administration’s other priorities, when it comes to immigration, we are addressing a status quo that is simply unacceptable. Everybody recognizes that our current system isn’t working and that our immigration laws need to change. America’s businesses, workers, and faith-based organizations are calling for reform. Law enforcement and government at every level are asking for reform. And at the Department of Homeland Security, we need reform to do our job of enforcing the law and keeping our country secure.
Over the past ten months, we’ve worked to improve immigration enforcement and border security within the current legal framework. But the more work we do, the more it becomes clear that the laws themselves need to be reformed.
"Three-legged Stool" Approach to Immigration Reform
Let me be clear: when I talk about "immigration reform," I’m referring to what I call the "three-legged stool" that includes a commitment to serious and effective enforcement, improved legal flows for families and workers, and a firm but fair way to deal with those who are already here. That’s the way that this problem has to be solved, because we need all three aspects to build a successful system. This approach has at its heart the conviction that we must demand responsibility and accountability from everyone involved in the system: immigrants, employers and government. And that begins with fair, reliable enforcement.
We know that one-sided reform, as we saw in 1986, cannot succeed. During that reform effort, the enforcement part of the equation was promised, but it didn’t materialize. That helped lead to our current situation, and it undermined Americans’ confidence in their government’s approach to this issue. That mistake can’t happen again, and it won’t happen again.
The American people expect us to act. Americans value our identity as both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. Unfortunately, too many politicians and pundits have treated these values as contradictory. They are not, and we will pursue reforms that emphasize both. The immigrant story is part of what it means to be an American – but failing to fix a broken system that undermines our shared values of lawfulness and fairness is not.
This is why key members of Congress are taking steps toward legislation that will create an immigration system that works. This is why the President continues to be fully committed to reforming our immigration laws, and why he asked me to take a lead role in this effort.