WASHINGTON — Skepticism on comprehensive immigration reform is resurfacing.
Leading Hispanic experts discussed federal inaction on immigration reform with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at the annual Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference on Sept. 13.
While Napolitano emphasized the administration’s efforts to boost security, speakers at the panel said the system requires more tweaking.
“We have removed more criminal aliens this year than any year in our nation’s history,” said Napolitano, while adding that 275,000 employers suspected of hiring workers illegally have been audited in the past year. “I think it (the Southwest border) is as secure as it has ever been, and I think it’s getting more secure each day.”
Alberto Cardenas, an attorney with Counsel, Vinson and Elkins, criticized current border security measures by stating that the “underground economy has benefited from (Napolitano’s) policies.”
Napolitano said Cardenas’ conclusions are premature, but acknowledged it’s harder to prosecute employers who hire undocumented persons. She added that the administration has boosted efforts through the enforcement of public safety programs such as Secure Communities and comprehensive immigration reform is still priority.
Still, Cardenas said Congress is in political deadlock on how to handle the estimated 11 million undocumented persons living in the country.
“We keep playing a game where we lose every time,” said Cardenas. He said the senate isn’t ready for immigration reform and offered a different route instead by recommending the passage of separate legislation such as the DREAM Act and AgJobs.
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) refuted his advice, saying a “piece-meal” approach will only isolate support for reform.
“Everybody will peel off and say: Later gator,” she said.
Speakers also discussed the Latino vote, addressing rumors that people will stay home on when midterm elections come around. The rumors notwithstanding, the speakers said that tensions in the Hispanic community will motivate voters to hold electives accountable at the ballot box.
A young woman in the audience from Santa Barbara, California, questioned Napolitano’s statements on public safety programs, saying that of 108 people deported in her community, 58 had no criminal record.
“If Secure Communities is supposed to be focusing on deporting criminals…what is DHS going to do to fix this?” the young woman said.
Napolitano responded by saying that the numbers needed to be checked, and that the department will be looking out for whether secure communities is being used as a pretext.
Reverend Samuel Rodrigruez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said xenophobic rhetoric acted as an underlying obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform.
“The elephant in the room in immigration reform is not security,” he said. “It’s that America is becoming too Latino and people are afraid of what it means for this country to become too Latino.”
Image: The National Guard @ Flickr.
Raisa Camargo is a reporter with the Hispanic Link Service.