Dispatch from Immigration Front Lines

The Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Manhattan Institute hosted a conversation about immigration with Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D) at the National Press Club on Wednesday. The event came as the Senate voted to resume debate on a comprehensive immigration bill, lending further immediacy to a situation Napolitano stressed would not go away.

Introduced by Center for American Progress Action Fund Chairman and CEO John D. Podesta as “a great national leader and a front-line commander,” Napolitano described the vast pressures put on her border state and urged congressional action. Crystallizing the broken immigration policy was the $357 million bill she sent to the Department of Justice—the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants in her state, and an amount that could have paid for two years of full-time kindergarten for every child in the state.

Napolitano highlighted what she believed was the most realistic and practical approach to solving what she described as an untenable current situation—one that takes up more hours of her state’s legislature time than any other issue and causes frustrated lawmakers to produce increasingly punitive and severe bills.

Napolitano’s priorities for pragmatic and comprehensive immigration reform include:

  • Increased—and smarter—border security.
  • A path to citizenship for the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country, with penalties for breaking the law and fines for back taxes.
  • A real give-and-take temporary worker program that protects American workers.
  • No penalization of native-born children of undocumented immigrants or children who entered the country at a very young age and went through the American school system.
  • Keeping high-tech workers in the United States through their H1B visas.

Noting that many states were already taking action on the issue, Napolitano said that federal reform was needed to avoid a fragmented and confusing set of 50 different immigration laws.

The governor said that her landslide re-election this past fall was indicative of a general, quiet pragmatism about the issue among most Americans. Estimating that 25 percent to 30 percent of Americans are vehemently opposed to any type of reform, which she calls de facto amnesty, Napolitano believes the rest of the population is hungry for a humane but firm approach to real comprehensive reform.

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