(CNSNews.com) –Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday that the Obama administration will push for “immigration reform” by giving the estimated 14 million people who are in the United States illegally “fair pathway to earned legal status.”
“A tough and fair pathway to earned legal status will mandate that illegal immigrants meet a number of requirements—including registering, paying a fine, passing a criminal background check, fully paying all taxes and learning English,” Napolitano said Friday at a panel discussion at the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
“These are substantial requirements that will make sure this population gets right with the law,” Napolitano said. “It will help fix our broken system.”
Napolitano said the Obama administration is working to end the recession and put Americans back to work but said giving legal status to illegal aliens will “strengthen our economy.”
“Requiring illegal immigrants to register to earn legal status, as I discussed earlier, will strengthen our economy as these immigrants become full-paying taxpayers,” Napolitano said. “As labor leaders have made clear to me, immigration reform will be a boon to American workers.
“Think about it: unions will never achieve the best terms for workers when a large part of the workforce is illegal and operates in a shadow economy,” Napolitano said. “By contrast, the status quo not only hurts American workers, it also stifles potential opportunities to grow our economy.”
Napolitano said that she has seen a “major shift” in the immigration landscape, which the Obama administration hopes will make it easier for Congress to pass new immigration laws.
Included in that shift, Napolitano said, is a more secure border between the United States and Mexico, tougher law enforcement that has resulted in more arrests of criminal illegal immigrants and confiscation of contraband, and fewer people coming into the country illegally because of current economic conditions.
“For starters, the security of the Southwest border has been transformed from where it was in 2007,” Napolitano said. “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.
“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.
“These are major differences that should change the immigration conversation,” Napolitano said.
The secretary said the Obama administration is “committed to this issue.”
“When Congress is ready to act, we will be ready to support them,” Napolitano said.