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President Obama's 2010 Immigration Reform Agenda

Outlined by DHS Secretary Napolitano on November 14, 2009


President Obama's 2010 Immigration Reform Agenda
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

What Has Changed Since 2007

While everyone may agree that the status quo isn’t working, what everyone may not be aware of is how much the immigration landscape has changed since comprehensive reform efforts fell short in 2007. I’ve been dealing hands-on with immigration issues since 1993, so trust me: I know a major shift when I see one, and what I have seen makes reform far more attainable this time around.

For starters, the security of the Southwest border has been transformed from where it was in 2007. The federal government has dedicated unprecedented resources to the Mexican border in terms of manpower, technology and infrastructure—and it’s made a real difference.

Last March, the Obama Administration announced a Southwest Border Initiative that has increased the resources the government is dedicating to combating drug cartels, and the smuggled cash and illegal weapons they thrive on.

The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Defense have dedicated unprecedented resources to this initiative. This includes additional inspection and surveillance technology, as well as hundreds of personnel specializing in fields like inspection, intelligence and prosecutions. At DHS, we started screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for illegal weapons and cash—for the first time ever.

Compared to last year, seizures in all categories—drugs, smuggled cash, and illegal weapons—are up dramatically. For example, just looking at bulk cash, Customs and Border Protection has seized at the border more than $34 million in cash being smuggled southbound so far this year—more than four times as much as at this time last year.

Moreover, the immigration debate in 2007 happened during a period of historically high levels of illegal entry into the United States. Two years later, because of better enforcement and the current economic circumstances, those numbers have fallen sharply. The flow has reduced significantly – by more than half from the busiest years, proving we are in a much different environment than we were before.

20,000 More Border Patrol Agents

These are major differences that should change the immigration conversation. In 2007, many members of Congress said that they could support immigration reform in the future, but only if we first made significant progress securing the border. This reflected the real concern of many Americans that the government was not serious about enforcing the law.

Fast-forward to today, and many of the benchmarks these members of Congress set in 2007 have been met. For example, the Border Patrol has increased its forces to more than 20,000 officers, and DHS has built more than 600 miles of border fencing. Both of these milestones demonstrate that we have gotten Congress’ message.

We’ve also shown that the government is serious and strategic in its approach to enforcement by making changes in how we enforce the law in the interior of the country and at worksites. We have replaced old policies that merely looked tough with policies that are designed to actually be effective.

We’ve revised and standardized our immigration-enforcement agreements with state and local law enforcement to make sure that these agencies are effective forcemultipliers in our efforts to apprehend dangerous criminal aliens. We’ve expanded the Secure Communities program, which identifies illegal aliens being booked into local jails. Yesterday, we marked the end of the first year for this program, which is being used by 95 jurisdictions and has identified more than 111,000 criminal aliens.

Increased Enforcement Against Hiring Illegal Immigrants

Furthermore, we’ve transformed worksite enforcement to truly address the demand side of illegal immigration. We are auditing the books of thousands of employers suspected of relying on illegal labor to achieve an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

As part of this effort, Immigration and Customs Enforcement audited more employers suspected of hiring illegal labor in a single day in July than had been audited in all of 2008.

We’re also encouraging workplace compliance by expanding and improving the E-Verify system—an Internet-based system that allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of new hires. More than 167,000 employers at 639,000 worksites use E-Verify. In the past month, the program has grown at the rate of nearly 2,000 employers per week.

Improved interior and worksite enforcement is a critical part of comprehensive immigration reform. We’ve demonstrated that when it comes to that issue, this Administration is committed to action.

In addition, recent improvements at managing the legal immigration system also prove that the federal government is ready to handle major reform.

We’ve ended a year-long backlog for background checks on applicants for green cards and naturalization. We’ve expanded the opportunity for a widow to gain legal status here, despite the untimely death of her U.S. citizen spouse. We’ve launched a new interactive website that allows people to receive information about the status of their immigration cases by e-mail or text message, and we have reduced the time it takes to process those cases.

New State-of-the-Art Fingerprinting Technology

In addition to these changes, since 2007 we have made significant strides in technology. For example, new biometric technology allows us to take the fingerprints of people coming into the United States and compare their prints against databases we couldn’t access before.

This means we have new and enhanced abilities to quickly identify people committing immigration fraud, either by using someone else’s documents or by forging documents to escape detection for a past crime or immigration violation. We also have enhanced our capacity to exclude those suspected of supporting terrorism or other serious international crimes before they enter our country.

Overall, these and other changes make comprehensive immigration reform more attainable as a matter of both politics and policy. At the border, in the interior of the country, and when it comes to legal immigration, the government has made significant strides to improve enforcement. This is a fundamental change from 2007.

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