Napolitano: Ariz. law stems from frustration - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Napolitano: Ariz. law stems from frustration

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LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Congress's inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform has fueled the frustration the led to Arizona's strict new law against illegal immigration, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday.

The former Arizona governor and top prosecutor told a group of college scholarship recipients in Missouri that she understands the frustration but believes the law is a mistake. Napolitano, who was invited to Williams Jewell College to receive an award, said she vetoed similar proposals while governor.

"I don't think they are good law enforcement," Napolitano told students at the small liberal arts college in Liberty, a suburb of Kansas City.

Arizona's law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It directs police during traffic stops or while questioning people about possible legal violations to question individuals about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they are illegally in the country.

Napolitano said most law officers oppose such laws "because they force everybody to deal with immigration work as opposed to serious violent crimes, serious property crimes, other kinds of offenses that they may wish to prioritize in their own community. And that's not what law enforcement wants to do."

Napolitano was at Williams Jewell College to receive the Elmer Staats Award, an honor given to Truman Scholars who make significant contributions in the public sector. Napolitano was named a Truman Scholar in 1977. The scholarship encourages community service and provides recipients — 60 of them this year — with $30,000 for postgraduate studies.

She talked about her own life and exhorted young people in the crowd to consider running for public office or take other steps to transform their communities. She also took questions from the crowd on a host of topics, including the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy than bans gays from serving openly in the military and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

But she spoke at greatest length about immigration policy, reiterating her stance that building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is not enough to deter immigrants from entering the U.S. illegally.

"I was the U.S. attorney down there (in Arizona) and then the attorney general. I have ridden that border. I have walked it. I have flown it. I know that border. I really know every inch of that border," she said. "I have done ladder cases. I have done tunnel cases. The notion that you are going to build a wall or a fence from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, and that is an immigration policy is a myth."

Napolitano said what is needed at the border is a combination of manpower, better and more efficient use of technology, such as ground sensors and mobile radar systems, and some fencing and infrastructure so it's easier to see what pathways people are taking to illegally cross the border.

The border efforts need to be married with effective and strong enforcement of the nation's immigration laws, she added.

Napolitano has largely focused her efforts in President Barack Obama's administration on illegal immigrants who have committed serious crimes. But she finds the current laws a source of frustration.

She stressed repeatedly that a bipartisan group of lawmakers must come together and make changes. She said attention needs to be paid to workers who want to come to the U.S. temporarily as well as those already in the country illegally.

"The notion that we are going to capture and deport 10 million people is not realistic," she said. "To say that, that has to happen before we get immigration reform is to say you don't want immigration reform really.

"Look, they need to pay a fine, they need to register, they need to provide biometrics so we know more about their identities. That's a security issue from my standpoint. And then we need to move forward as a country."


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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