Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano added her voice to the national chorus debating immigration reform during a news conference in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday afternoon.
The U.S. immigration "system as a whole is badly in need of reform," Napolitano said, the Associated Press reported.
It was her second stop on a tour of the Mexican border. Napolitano has discussed border security, a topic that has taken on particular importance among Republicans.
"What we have seen now compared to 20 years ago is like the difference between a rocket ship and a horse and buggy," Napolitano said of the technology used in border enforcement during a stop in San Diego Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Illegal border-crossing attempts in the United States dropped by almost half in 2012, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
"At DHS, we are committed to making sure that the entire Southwest border is secure while expediting legal travel and trade," Napolitano said Monday in San Diego, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security. "I heard firsthand how our joint efforts have worked to secure the border here, and look forward to continued collaboration with our many state, local and tribal partners to build on the historic progress that we have made, here in San Diego, and across our Southwest border."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the bipartisan "gang of eight" senators who put forward a framework for immigration reform in January, has said it is important to strengthen border security with Mexico before legalizing a path to citizenship for immigrants who came here outside the bounds of the law.
Rubio supports "triggers" that would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining green cards unless the government makes good on promises of enforcement in other areas.
"If, in fact, this bill does not have real triggers in there, if there is not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place, I won't support it," Rubio told radio host Rush Limbaugh last week.
Republicans at the first House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform today sought a plan that would exclude a path to citizenship.
"Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?" Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asked San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was one of four witnesses on the first panel.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, however, called for citizenship for children of illegal immigrants in his own news conference today.
House Speaker John Boehner told members of Congress at the House hearing that immigration reform was going to be a long process.
"This is not about being in a hurry," Boehner said. "This is about trying to get it right on behalf of the American people and those who are suffering under an immigration system that doesn't work very well for anybody."