DREAMing of Immigration Reform: Napolitano Says Bi-Partisan Push Is Underway

Mar 27, 2010 4:31pm

ABC News on Campus reporter Toby Phillips blogs: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday the U.S. wants to move forward on immigration reform — a plan spurred by renewed, bi-partisan discussion in Washington, D.C.
During her speech at Arizona State University Thursday she lauded the D.R.E.A.M Act, a piece of legislation that would grant citizenship to certain undocumented students in exchange for military service or higher-education, if those students had been brought to the United States at a young age. "A D.R.E.A.M Act portion is actually probably among the most popular parts [of the immigration reform plans]," Napolitano said. Supporters of the D.R.E.A.M Act took up nearly an entire row in the music theater where the lecture took place. They held up signs with the word "DREAM," and wore traditional graduation caps and gowns. "There is a bi-partisian recognition that there is a terrible waste going on by precluding young people from getting a higher education who themselves are not responsible for their presence one way or another in that regard," Napolitano said, referring to students who would be directly affected by the D.R.E.A.M Act. "The President is committed to [immigration reform]; the administration is committed to it," she added. The mention of comprehensive immigration reform earned a standing ovation at Napolitano's lecture, which was titled "Meeting New and Evolving Threats to our National Security"  –  a fitting topic in a state where immigration and border security never cease to be hot topics. What's doubly fitting is that Napolitano was once the governor of Arizona and dealt with many of the border issues she continues to deal with in her post within the Obama administration.
As governor of Arizona, Napolitano vetoed several pieces of legislation that many state Republicans said would have cracked down on illegal immigration. It's her experience with border-state issues, like immigration, that put her front and center in the national immigration debate, she said.
"I believe one of the reasons I was asked to come back to Washington is to make sure that we … persist in those efforts," she said. “We are working with the Congress to design and draft a comprehensive immigration law that meets our country’s security, law enforcement [and] labor needs in the 21st century."
Napolitano spoke to a crowd of nearly 500 people, with others watching an online screening of the event.
But regardless of how many came to watch, ASU political science expert Rodolfo Espino said Napolitano's lecture was more of a "talking-points" moment than a policy-changing speech.
"The only way something's going to change is if there's some action taken by Congress over the summer [in regard to immigration reform]," Espino said. Some ASU students told ABC News on Campus they had no interest in immigration reform. They wanted to hear more about the country's ability to prevent future terrorist attacks.
ASU student Doug McCormick, 35, said he suspected Napolitano was speaking in Arizona as a way to gain back support after what many critics consider a less-than-stellar handling of the December 25th attempted airline terrorist attack by a 23-year-old Nigerian man who boarded a Northwest Airlines flight in Detroit with explosive materials.
As an Urban Planning major, McCormick said his biggest security concern is that the nation's public transportation hubs are protected.
"I wanted to hear that the government had a plan to keep our travel centers protected," he said.
Napolitano called last year's attempted attack a "catalyst" to quickly push forward increased, effective security measures to fight an enemy that is presenting "new challenges."
"We are in a long struggle against violent extremism," she said. "It will require constant effort on our behalf."
The DHS's job now, Napolitano said, is to bring travel screenings up to date with new technologies. "The goal is to create a 21st century checkpoint," she said, whether one is traveling by air, land or sea.
DHS has heard a lot of complaints recently about those airport full-body scanners, Napolitano said. Many have called them a violation of privacy.
"At DHS, we can, must and do take issues of privacy into account before we develop new security measures," she said. "And I can confirm, no, the [full-body scanners] do not see everything."  Katherine Kee, 22, a communication major, said she's not too concerned about immigration reform or national security — instead, she was looking to Napolitano for words of optimism or encouragement.
"I'm not afraid, but I'd like to hear that we don't have much to worry about," Kee said.

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