WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday that an unprecedented amount of manpower and technology has largely secured the Southwest border and clears the way for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Napolitano said the Obama administration has met every benchmark set by Congress on border security and called on lawmakers to "quit moving the goal posts."
"We need Congress to fix our broken immigration system," Napolitano told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute public-policy conference.
Napolitano is one of six Cabinet secretaries to address the two-day conference, which is being held during Hispanic Heritage Month.
In addition to immigration reform, Obama administration officials, lawmakers and experts will discuss policy initiatives dealing with the economy, education, financial services, health care and international relations.
Napolitano said the administration has reduced a yearlong backlog for legal immigrants applying for visas and citizenship, and has stepped up enforcement of laws against employers who hire and exploit illegal workers.
The president also has sent 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border until additional Border Patrol and customs agents are hired and trained to bolster security along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
Napolitano said it is important that the American people know the administration takes law enforcement seriously.
She said the Obama administration has provided an unprecedented amount of manpower and technology along the border to stanch illegal immigration and better secure U.S. border communities as violence increases in northern Mexico.
Napolitano said the United States is working with the Mexican government to stop the flow of contraband carried north by immigrants, as well as guns and bulk cash going south to drug-smuggling cartels.
She said the border "is as secure as it has ever been," and Congress should now pass and implement meaningful immigration reform.
Napolitano said it is now time for lawmakers in both major political parties to negotiate not just a bill, but a fair and just system that addresses the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally, offering them a chance for earned citizenship.
President Obama has called on Congress to pass immigration-reform legislation, but he has acknowledged that he lacks the votes to get the contentious bill through the Senate, where it died for lack of action in 2007.
Beto Cardenas, a Houston immigration lawyer, told the conference "the blame goes everywhere" in Congress for failure to pass a bill.
Cardenas noted that Democrats have controlled the House, the Senate and the White House for two years.
"What's missing is moving toward the middle," said Cardenas, who suggested Congress pass immigration measures that are less contentious before tackling citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Groups that seek tighter limits on immigration, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, contend the Obama administration is weakening immigration policy.
FAIR has accused the Department of Homeland Security of suspending worksite enforcement and weakening the 287(g) program that partners local law enforcement officers with agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which helped deport 35,000 illegal immigrants over the past two years.
But Napolitano said the administration has prioritized enforcement to provide public safety, moving to first deport illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds and prosecuting unscrupulous employers.
Hispanic and immigrant-rights groups, meanwhile, have complained that the Obama administration's focus on border enforcement and continued worksite raids unfairly targets the minority community.