Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano blamed a "bitterly divided Congress" for failing to create an immigration bill but assured Hispanic political leaders on Thursday that the president remains committed to overhauling the nation's immigration laws.
"Make no mistake about it. President Obama and the administration are committed to comprehensive immigration reform," Napolitano said to cheers and applause of participants at the annual conference of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a nonpartisan group that represents more than 6,000 political leaders. "But I think we can all recognize, and you as elected officials can recognize particularly, that some reform takes time."
Napolitano highlighted President Barack Obama's effort to make it easier for legal immigrants to become citizens and said Obama has taken a tough approach to securing the U.S.-Mexican border.
She did not mention Arizona's tough new immigration law, which takes effect July 29 if it survives legal challenges. It requires police to question people about their immigration status while enforcing other laws if there's reason to suspect someone is in the country illegally.
Napolitano also provided no details of what an immigration bill would look like, but said that it would be a "big goal" requiring bipartisanship.
"We need partners on this one because the administration's own commitment and even the commitment and the desires of so many groups around the country (who say), 'Do something, do something, do something.' That alone doesn't provide us with the bipartisan legislative agreement that we need to reach," she said.
Napolitano stressed that the administration was committed to tough enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border while working to formulate a bill. This week, Obama asked Congress for $600 million in emergency funds for 1,000 more Border Patrol agents.
Napolitano said lawmakers who say the border needs to be secured before a new immigration bill is introduced "keep moving the goalpost."
"And the word secure really becomes, effectively, 'seal' the border," she said.
Nicolas Dominguez, 54, a trustee at El Paso Community College, said he was satisfied with Napolitano's speech, but added, "I think these speeches need to be followed up by actual actions." He also said he wanted more details about what an immigration bill would look like.
Rosa Varela, a school board member from San Luis, Ariz., said she wanted Napolitano to address the state's new immigration law.
"I'm from Arizona and I would like to see what they are doing. This law is affecting our people," she said.
Sylvia Garcia, the president of NALEO, said the group is trying to get people to understand that an immigration bill may take a while. More than 700 Hispanic political leaders are in Denver for the group's conference, which ends Saturday.
"We're just telling people to be patient," Garcia said. "We have to have faith and patience."
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