Napolitano Sketches Border Fix

An interview with Gov. Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security czar nominee.

December 1, 2008, 2:12 PM

Dec. 1, 2008 -- Almost a year before Barack Obama nominated her to be secretary of Homeland Security, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano spoke with ABC News about how the next president should tackle immigration reform.

"I'm a governor, so I always think in terms of budgets," said Napolitano. "Whoever the next president is should give his two-term plan for the border and for immigration reform. Give us an eight-year budget. Plan it out. Show us where it's going. And make sure that every year, those numbers are included. Build some of that into your own accountability. Tell your office of Management and Budget, 'I don't want to sign off on a budget that doesn't include these things.' That's one way you might start building in some confidence."

In the January 2008 interview, Napolitano laid out a four-part plan: beefing up border security with technology and manpower, cracking down on employers who hire illegal workers, increasing the availability of work visas, and offering the country's 12 million illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

The Arizona governor argued that stopping illegal immigration would require both border enforcement and going after employers who rely on illegal workers.

"What you need is a sustained plan over time that marries what you're doing at the border . . . with interior enforcement, which means going after employers who consistently and intentionally disobey the immigration law," said Napolitano.

While Napolitano would focus on interior enforcement of employer sanctions, she would also urge Congress to increase the number of work visas because, in her view, the current number is "obviously inadequate to meet our current and future labor needs."

Earned legalization for illegal immigrants must be on the next president's agenda, added Napolitano. In contrast with some congressional Republicans who want to delay earned legalization until new border security measures are enacted, Napolitano said, "I don't know that you should do those sequentially."

In exchange for a pathway to citizenship, Napolitano would require illegal immigrants to pay a fine, learn English, and "get in line."

She would not, however, require illegal immigrants to "touchback" in their country of origin before getting a pathway to earned legalization.

"The notion that we're going to make them go on some kind of ceremonial trip just to make us feel good, I think, is not really an immigration plan," said Napolitano.

"Let's think it through," she continued. "Let's say you are an illegal. You are in the United States. You are from Guatemala. OK, you're supposed to voluntarily return to Guatemala, I guess, as opposed to being deported. All right. Well, then, what are you supposed to do? Show up in front of an office in Guatemala and re-apply for entry into this country, which means there's got to be some government bureaucrat down there on behalf of the U.S. that has to process all of that there.

"And let's say you were the breadwinner for your family," she continued. "Who's taking care of your family up here? Or are they going to go on the welfare rolls up here -- because your kids may very well be U.S. citizens?"

In addition to opposing Republican calls for a "touchback" provision, Napolitano also opposes asking border governors to certify the integrity of the border, a proposal pushed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during his presidential campaign.

"The certification issue sounds good," said Napolitano. "But it is a snapshot, not a sustained presence, and a snapshot could vary greatly within any given state within any given year."

Relying on governors to certify that the border is secure amounts to shirking responsibility, said Napolitano.

"If you make certification the only criteria for whether you then move into overall immigration reform, what I would be leery of is putting up a process by which you never have to take responsibility for overall immigration reform," she said.

ABC News' Arnab Datta and Ferdous Al-Faruque contributed to this report.

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