Outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano criticized Congress for failing to provide children illegally brought into the U.S. by their parents a path to U.S. citizenship in her August 27 farewell address to the National Press Club.
Referring to "children brought here through no fault of their own and who know no other country as their home," Napolitano told the Press Club, "Congress had a chance to give these so-called Dreamers a way to stay in our country through the DREAM Act, but unfortunately that legislation failed to garner the 60 votes needed for cloture, falling just 5 votes short, despite strong bi-partisan support."
Despite the DREAM Act's congressional failure, Napolitano praised the Obama administration's executive actions taken during her tenure to help the Dreamers.
Under the DACA process, illegal immigrants who were under the age of 16 when they entered the U.S. and meet certain strict criteria can be granted a provisional legal resident status allowing them to remain in the United States for two years.
In her memorandum ordering the DACA program, Sec. Napolitano stated that U.S. immigration laws "are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case." "Nor," she added "are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Indeed, many of these young people have already contributed to our country in significant ways."
"In just its first year, over half-a-million individuals have requested deferred action, and after a thorough review of each of those cases, including a background check, 430,000 requests have already been approved, allowing these young people to continue to contribute to the country they call home," said Napolitano. "DACA, of course, is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform, which is the only way to face the longstanding problems with our immigration system."
Along with keeping the Dreamers in, Napolitano praised her agency's effort in keeping more mature illegal immigrants out of the United States.
"Over the past four and a half years, we have invested historic resources to prevent illegal cross-border activity," she said. "And because of these investments in manpower, and technology, and infrastructure, our borders are now better staffed and better protected than any time in our nation's history, and illegal crossings have dropped to near-40-year-lows."
Napolitano also praised the Obama administration's decision to focus its deportation efforts on criminals, repeat offenders and those who pose public safety or security threats. "Last year we removed more serious criminals from the United States than any time in our history," she said.
Along with preventing terrorist attacks and compassionately curbing illegal immigration, Napolitano noted that during her watch, the Department of Homeland Security had managed 325 federally-declared natural disasters and issued more than 60 emergency declarations,
"Looking back over the past four and a half years, I can say that if there is one take-away, one object lesson and core operating principle that I've learned and embraced as Secretary, it is this: in a world of evolving threats, the key to our success is the ability to be flexible and agile, and adapt to changing circumstances on the ground -- whether that is across the globe, or here at home" Napolitano said.
Nominated by President Obama on December 1, 2008 and confirmed by the Senate on January 20, 2009, Napolitano is the fourth person to lead the Department of Homeland Security, created in reaction to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She is scheduled to leave her post on September 6 to head the University of California system.
While President Obama has yet to name her successor, Napolitano advised they "will need a large bottle of Advil."