Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rebuffed accusations from Republican senators today that the Obama administration is attempting to bypass Congress to secretly allow young illegal immigrants to stay in the country.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa asked Napolitano if President Obama was attempting to implement "mass amnesty" administratively, by staying deportations for certain classes of illegal immigrants.
"There is no mass amnesty here," Napolitano said.
Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary committee to push for the passage of the Dream Act, a 10-year-old bill that would allow young people who were brought into the country by their parents as children to become citizens if they join the military or go to college. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate last December.
Grassley and GOP Texas Sen. John Cornyn questioned Napolitano closely over a new memo released by ICE chief John Morton, which emphasizes that the government's priority is to deport dangerous criminals. The memo also tells ICE agents to take "particular care and consideration" when illegal immigrants are veterans, elderly, ill, have been in the country for a long time, or are victims of crimes. Immigration experts say the memo just re-states ICE's previously articulated priorities, but immigration hawks and ICE's union leaders have derided the memo as "backdoor amnesty."
"I think he could not be more wrong." Napolitano said of union leader Chris Crane who criticized ICE's policies as amnesty.
"And I don't know where he gets his information, but the enforcement record of this administration is unparalleled. We have enforced the law. We have improved the removal of criminal aliens, and we have removed more people from the country and we've been criticized for that. But it's our belief that enforcement of immigration law is very important."
The Obama administration deported a record-breaking 392,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2010, half of them with no criminal records. (Over-staying a visa is considered a civil offense, while crossing the border into the United States without papers is a misdemeanor crime.)
Napolitano also said that ICE is working on developing a system to "allow us to identify as early as possible people who are caught up in the removal system who in the end do not fit our removal priorities." A Department of Homeland Security official told The Lookout Napolitano is referring to their efforts to create a "a streamlined process to identify individuals who have been entered into removal proceedings and do not match ICE's removal priorities." It would help ICE focus on removing "criminal aliens, repeat immigration violators, fugitives and recent illegal border crossers," the official said.
Dr. Clifford Stanley, the Department of Defense's under secretary of personnel readiness, also testified at the hearing that the military strongly supports the Dream Act. He said 25,000 non-citizens serve in uniform, and that allowing more young immigrants to join the military would open up recruiting opportunities for the armed services.
Last week, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jose Vargas revealed in the New York Times that he's been living in the United State for nearly 20 years as an illegal immigrant, after he was sent to the United States by his mother as a child. He is now advocating for the Dream Act and immigration reform.