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A Leader in the Immigration Debate

Podesta on Gov. Janet Napolitano

John D. Podesta's introduction of Arizona governor Janet Napolitano at a National Press Club event on immigration reform.

Good morning.

I am John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress. Thank you all for joining us.

In a moment, I will introduce my good friend Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has not only been a great national leader in the immigration debate, but a front-line commander in the battle to solve this crisis. But first, I want to take a minute to frame the immigration debate as it stands today.

Our country has always drawn strength from its immigrants and the current wave of immigration should be no different. But we must recognize that our immigration system is unworkable, unenforceable, and ineffective. That is why the Center for American Progress has consistently reiterated its support for comprehensive immigration reform.

During the past two decades, the United States has tried to move towards a functional immigration system but I think every critical observer would give those efforts a failing grade. Piecemeal efforts at enforcement, especially those focused exclusively at the border have failed in the past, leaving us with a dysfunctional system and with no real success at curbing illegal immigration.

From 1990 to 2005, for example, we tripled the size of the Border Patrol and between 1986 and 2002 we increased its funding tenfold. Nonetheless, the size of the undocumented population in the United States has more than doubled since 1990.

If we have learned anything from these past efforts it is that focusing on only one aspect of the problem will not yield results.

We need an approach that is holistic and that enhances our economic and national security, respects our values as a country of immigrants, and restores the rule of law.

We need comprehensive reform that is tough and smart on enforcement at the border and in the workplace, provides for a path to earned citizenship for the approximately 12 million undocumented people currently in the country, and establishes defined channels for future migration.

The proposed legislation we have heard debated in Congress in the past few weeks and that returned to the floor this week, is far from perfect. There are some troublesome provisions including the complicated temporary low-skill “guest worker” program, the onerous “touchback” provision, and the move away from the family-based system. But we support the bill as a step forward in the debate, albeit one that needs modification.

As a country that has been and will remain a nation of immigrants, we cannot abandon this debate until we have an immigration system that is enforceable, tough, and practical.

Gov. Janet Napolitano is charged with leading a state that faces the challenges of this polarizing issue everyday. While serving her second term as governor of Arizona, she has been a national leader pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that is of tremendously important to Arizona as the border state bearing the brunt of this problem.

I’ll let her tell you more about how the issue affects Arizona and her ideas to help the country face the problem, but I’ll just say that I’ve known her since 1993 when President Clinton appointed her as U.S. attorney, and I can tell you that all Americans are lucky to her leadership on this vexing problem. She never shrinks from tough problems. Instead she tackles them head on, pioneering innovative solutions to some of our toughest challenges.

She is pragmatic, smart, and willing to stick her neck out for the issues that matter to her constituency. That is probably one of the reasons she was named one of the nation’s best governors in the United States by Time magazine.

Gov. Napolitano is also the first woman to Chair of the National Governors Association. And last year The White House Project named her one of its “8 in ’08,” a list of eight women who might be elected president in the 2008 election.

It is a pleasure to have Gov. Janet Napolitano with us here today to share her thoughts and ideas on immigration reform. Hopefully, we can have a thoughtful and frank discussion about the challenges that lie ahead.

After Gov. Napolitano’s remarks, Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, will moderate Q&A with her and will open it up to you for questions.

With that, please help me welcome Gov. Janet Napolitano.

  • Read more about the event here.