The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
While U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wouldn’t comment on Georgia’s Arizona-like immigration bill, she said Saturday that state legislative initiatives are not the way to address the issue.
“This is what [President Barack Obama] has said and I’ve been saying, state by state won’t cut it,” Napolitano said in a speech to the Atlanta Press Club. “It’s got to be a federal reform of immigration laws.”
The secretary was also in town to assess storm damage in Ringgold on Sunday and to address graduation at Emory University on Monday.
Napolitano, who declined to comment on Georgia’s immigration HB 87, was governor of Arizona before taking over Homeland Security halfway into her second term. She said states are taking on immigration because of an “underlying frustration that this has not yet been dealt with at the national level, which is really where it should be dealt with so that there is national consistency where immigration is concerned.”
Immigration reform was arguably the hottest topic in this year’s legislative session. HB 87, which Gov. Nathan Deal said he will sign soon, will create new requirements to ensure new workers are eligible for employment in the U.S. and empowers police to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects.
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Deal, said the governor agrees Congress must address the issue, but said talks in Washington fall apart because Democrats insist on amnesty. In the meantime, states are burdened with the cost associated with illegal immigration such as schools, police and health care, he said.
“We are taking action in the only way that we can,” Robinson said.
Napolitano argued that illegal immigration is down 36 percent and said Homeland Security has beefed up audits of employers to catch those who hire illegally.
What troubles her is that the debate on the issue suggests the federal government is asleep at the wheel.
“I think these efforts on a state by state level first of all have predicated a falsity,” she said. “The falsity is that there has been nothing done, and that the border somehow is out of control. That is incorrect.”
Rep. Matthew L. Ramsey, R-Peachtree City, who introduced HB 87, said he applauds any effort the federal government has made to curb illegal immigration. But he said the fact remains that states, which have had to cut budgets across the board in one of the worst recessions in history, cannot afford to fund those who are here illegally.
“Any suggestion that states should continue to wait for the federal government to do something, with all due respect, is laughable,” he said. “We have been hearing that for decades.”