Mission Impossible for Secretary Napolitano?

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on August 24, 2009

Is it possible to play tough cop and nice cop at the same time? That's roughly the assignment facing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. In addition to leading the agencies responsible for enforcing immigration law, she has been designated by President Obama to work with Congress to forge "comprehensive immigration reform" legislation that would legalize millions of people who have broken the law.

Napolitano presided over last week's White House meeting with comprehensive reform advocates, many of whom have criticized her for enforcing the law. While welcoming her curtailment of worksite raids, they have attacked her for advancing efforts to screen employers' hiring practices and to improve cooperation with local police departments.

The meeting is widely perceived as an effort by the Obama administration to placate the critics, whose anger has been prominently featured in Spanish-language media. President Obama made a brief appearance, to the surprise of such advocates as Frank Sharry of America's voice.

The president said he is committed to a reform during this Congress, that we can do it, and that he will need the support of the entire community of activists and of the immigrants, Sharry told Univision's Martin Berlanga.

During President Obama's visit to Mexico earlier this month, he said that while action on reform legislation would be postponed until next year, he wanted a bill to be drafted this year. Sharry put pressure on Napolitano to start promoting that project.

Secretary Natpolitano needs to make public speeches, explaining to Congress and the public why it is urgent that we have comprehensive reform, Sharry said. He expressed alarm at Napolitano's recent speech in El Paso, in which she promised to continue enforcing immigration law even as she expressed hope that the law would be changed. At El Paso she announced plans to step up monitoring of employers' hiring records, a measure that advocates fear could lead to large-scale firings by nervous employers.

Sharry said Napolitano set a better tone at the White House meeting. She said she had received the (advocates') message, Sharry said. He added that advocates will be carefully monitoring Napolitano's efforts to sell immigration reform.

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