Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano praised the immigration reform bill on Tuesday, amid calls to delay the recently-introduced bill because of national security concerns following the Boston Marathon bombing.
She said it would help address “the most serious problems” with the nation’s current immigration system.
“The introduction of this legislation is an important first step that reflects significant momentum toward our shared goal to reform the nation’s immigration laws,” she stated in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s immigration reform hearing.
Napolitano also said the introduction of the immigration reform bill is “a true milestone.” She praised several provisions of the bill, including the border security measures and the mandatory employment verification system. She also noted that the bill would modernize the nation’s legal immigration system, which she said would allow families to be reunited in a “humane and timely manner.”
Napolitano added that the 844-page bill would bring millions of undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows” by giving them a chance to earn citizenship. This provision in the bill, she said, is necessary in order for immigration reform to be successful.
“These are all commonsense steps that the majority of Americans support,” she said in her testimony. “The president and I, as well as the rest of the cabinet, stand willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that comprehensive immigration reform becomes a reality as soon as possible.”
Napolitano: Immigration reform would’ve helped track Boston bombing suspect
Several Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have argued that debate over the bipartisan immigration reform bill introduced last week in the Senate by the “Gang of Eight” should be delayed because of the Boston bombing.
Their concern stems from the fact that the two brothers suspected of planning the Boston bombing are immigrants from the Chechen Republic in Russia, though one of them is a recently-naturalized citizen and the other was a legal permanent resident.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at the first hearing on the immigration reform bill last Friday that the Boston bombing underscores the need “to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system.” He said the immigration debate should focus on national security concerns as well as the “weaknesses” of the United States immigration system in light of the Boston bombing.
Napolitano addressed those concerns on Tuesday, saying lessons would be learned from the attack and that progress on immigration reform should not be stalled because of the Boston bombing.
Napolitano also defended the security measures that are taken when someone applies for asylum in the U.S.—the father of the suspected Boston bombers sought political asylum about a decade ago. She said improvements have been made to those measures and that the immigration reform bill would help improve them even more.
Furthermore, Napolitano said the bill would make it mandatory for all U.S. passports to be electronically readable, which would help reduce human error. She said this would’ve helped alert federal officials about the six-month trip that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the oldest bombing suspect, took to Russia last year.
She told the Senate Judiciary Committee that initially, DHS didn’t know Tsarnaev traveled to Russia in 2012 because his name was misspelled by an airline on a travel document. Eventually, the agency found out about the trip because of “redundancies” in the system. Tsarnaev came back six months later, but his re-entry went unnoticed.
“The system pinged when he was leaving the U.S.,” Napolitano said, responding to a question from Grassley. “By the time, he returned, all investigations—the matter had been closed.”