By Paul Bedard
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano indicated today that the U.S. doesn't need to boost the annual number of illegal immigrant deportations, now 400,000 annually, because she's grabbing most of the criminals and sending them home.
"If we come to the point where we are unable to remove everybody we know has a threat to security or has a criminal record, violated criminal laws, or that we've caught right at the border, or is a fugitive, or has multiple reentries and we don't have the resources to remove those, then the Congress should look at the resources they give us," she told Washington Whispers during a roundtable interview sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
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Napolitano, who recently changed the priorities on who gets the boot, said that the focus will now be more on criminals. Currently, the annual 400,000 deportations are split evenly between those with criminal records and those with no record.
But she didn't downplay the threat illegal immigrants, estimated at 12 million, are to the nation.
"Let's not minimize. Almost half of the 400,000 people we deported last year had a criminal record of some sort. So that's a fairly robust [statistic]," she said. What's more, under the controversial new rules changes, she said that "the composition of who we deport is going to be changing and going in that direction over time. That's what it's designed to do, turning the ship" to kick out more criminals.
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The new rules were heralded by immigrant groups and Democrats who view them as more lenient to those here illegally. Essentially, it will mean that Homeland officials will perform a case-by-case reviews those slated for deportation, giving violent criminals and other high-priority cases a ticket home while likely closing the books on those not considered to be a threat.
Critics say it amounts to an open-door policy to the millions of illegal immigrants who don't have a record.
But Napolitano called the changes "common sense" solutions to the massive immigration problem. Noting that Congress only appropriates enough money to remove 400,000 a year, she said that "you can either just take kind of an anybody is anybody approach, or you can say, look let's focus on those who have an impact on public safety, who may have a connect with national security, who we catch right at the border, who are multiple reentrants so they are gaming the system like a revolving door or who are actual fugitives."
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Napolitano said that the numbers of deportations is "robust" and she added that the southwest border with Mexico has never been more secure.
She joked that "you get yanked from both sides" when it comes to immigration policy.
Her interview came right before she was to travel to Virginia and North Carolina to meet with homeowners and officials in need of federal relieve due to destruction from Hurricane Irene. For the trip, she wore a blue shirt emblazoned with the logo of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.