The nation’s domestic security chief stressed Saturday that a comprehensive immigration overhaul should be left up to Congress, rebuking Georgia politicians who recently adopted a crackdown on illegal immigration that’s considered among the nation’s toughest.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Atlanta Press Club that federal immigration laws are badly in need of a sweeping update, but that Congress should take the lead. She said Georgia residents should be focused on encouraging Congress “that it is time to get to the table.”
“It’s something that only Congress can solve, and the administration is right there saying it’s time to deal with this very serious problem as a nation and not state-by-state,” she said.
Napolitano would not comment on Georgia’s legislation, which Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has pledged he would sign. But she pointed out that the federal government has options, noting that the Justice Department filed a lawsuit to block a tough immigration overhaul in Arizona from taking effect. That litigation is still pending.
The Georgia measure would require employers to use a federal database to make sure new hires are in the country legally. It also would allow law enforcement to check the status of people being investigated, even during a traffic stop, if they don’t have an acceptable form of identification.
State Rep. Matt Ramsey, the Peachtree City Republican who sponsored the measure, argued that illegal immigrants are a drain on the state’s resources and that state legislators were forced to take a bold stance because Congress hasn’t.
“The federal government’s failure to secure our borders serves as an open invitation for illegal immigration,” Ramsey said as lawmakers were considering the proposal.
Napolitano said she’s “dismayed” by the suggestion that federal authorities aren’t enforcing the law.
“These efforts on a state-by-state basis are predicated on a falsehood that the federal government has failed to act,” she said. “There has never been a stronger, more sustained effort at the border.”
She said while penalties for illegal immigrations need to be strengthened, enforcement alone wouldn’t solve the problem. Lawmakers should also extend visas to allow more high-tech and agriculture workers to enter the U.S., she said, and Congress should give young people who were brought to the country illegally when they were children more leeway to remain.
“There ought to be a way they can stay,” she said. “That’s not amnesty. It’s just common sense.”