Napolitano on immigration: We're not Bush

In announcing a $30 million border security plan Tuesday, she sought to emphasize how the administration is shifting priorities.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano addresses those in attendance at the 6th Annual Border Security Conference held in El Paso, Texas on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso.
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Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday pledged $30 million in grants to shore up security along America's increasingly violent Southwest border.

"At the top of our border security mission is combating violence by Mexico-based drug cartels," said Secretary Napolitano at the annual Border Security Conference in El Paso, Texas.

The $30 million grants will be spread across states that border Mexico and be on top of $60 million given in June to Southwestern states as part of Operation Stonegarden, a program started in 2005 to provide states with federal money to bolster border security.

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The announcement comes on the heels of a two-day summit between North American leaders in Mexico that focused on issues of border security and immigration. One of the major issues of that forum was the ongoing drug war in Mexico that is increasing pressure on law enforcement in both the US and Mexico.

Yet President Obama also announced at the summit that he would tackle comprehensive immigration reform next year – even though many

Hispanic advocacy groups have been pressing the administration to act sooner.

In the context of this disappointment, Napolitano sought to emphasize how the Obama administration is already deviating from immigration policies followed by the Bush administration.

• The Obama administration has revised controversial 287g rules that allow local law enforcement officials to track illegal immigrants and arrest them on minor infractions. Now the government wants police to focus on nabbing immigrants wanted for serious offenses.

• The administration is also revamping immigration detention programs. "These major changes in detention ... will result in a system that deals with detainees in an efficient, transparent, and humane manner," she said.

• In addition, the administration is focusing more on the demand side of the illegal immigration problem, Napolitano said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued inspection notices to 652 suspected businesses nationwide on July 2 – more notices than were issued in the entire previous year, she added.

But these new policies have already drawn fire from both immigration advocacy groups and some in law enforcement.

"If I'm told not to enforce immigration law except if the alien is a violent criminal, my answer to that is we are still going to do the same thing, 287g or not," Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff, told The Wall Street Journal last month.

Some Hispanic advocacy groups say that 287g still gives police too much power, essentially giving them a green light to racially profile.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said she had hoped the Obama administration would do away with 287g altogether.

But, that said, she still sees a dramatic difference between Obama and Bush when it comes to enforcing immigration law. Gone are the massive roundups of illegal workers and raids on immigrant households, she says.

Obama recently told a group of Hispanic reporters at the White House that he was "less concerned with making criminals out of people who are simply looking for jobs" and that while he has extended 287g, it is being carried out under a "new set of priorities and rules."

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