Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says she has "deep concerns" about a new immigration law in the western state of Arizona that will require police to question people if there is reason to believe they could be illegal immigrants. Napolitano faced questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill on what the Obama administration is doing to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law last Friday that would make it a crime to be in the state illegally and would require police to check the status of people they suspect to be illegal immigrants. The law, which is set to take effect later this year, would also require immigrants to carry their registration documents with them at all times.
Testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano said she fears the law will cost her department money and the resources it needs to focus on illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes.
Several Republican senators said the Arizona governor acted because the federal government has failed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs from Mexico, and failed to secure the border. In this exchange with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Napolitano, who used to be the governor of Arizona, said the federal government has taken action to make the border more secure.
Napolitano: "I have walked that border, I have ridden that border, I have flown it, I have driven it. I know that border I think as well as anyone."
Graham: "Do you think it is secure?"
Napolitano: "And I will tell you it is as secure now as it has ever been..."
Graham: "My question ..."
Napolitano: "Senator, please. Let me answer the question."
Senator Graham and other Republicans say that many Americans living near the southern U.S. border are worried about the drug war in Mexico and fear the violence will spill over across the border. Graham said the Obama administration needs to show it can secure the border before it tries to pass immigration reform in Congress.
"And there is a war going on," added Senator Graham. "And you can't ignore the fact that the border is more dangerous because of the war in Mexico, which requires more action, not less."
Graham is one of few Republican lawmakers who in the past tried to work with Democrats to pass comprehensive immigration reform, but he said any immigration bill Congress would introduce would "crash and burn" unless the border is secured first.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is facing a primary election challenge from another Republican in his re-run for the senate seat in November, said that Arizona citizens are demanding action.
"The people in southern Arizona have had their rights violated by the unending and constant flow of drug smugglers and human traffickers across their property," said Senator McCain.
The law has strong public support in Arizona.
Opponents of the law in Arizona used refried beans to smear swastikas on the state Capitol in Phoenix, and civil rights and human rights leaders are calling for a tourist boycott of the state, saying the law discriminates against people who look or sound foreign and violates people's constitutional rights by giving the police too much power.
President Barack Obama has called the Arizona law "misguided" and says that Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The president said the law threatens to undermine "basic notions of fairness."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that the federal government may challenge Arizona's new law in court.
Mexico's foreign ministry issued a statement warning its citizens living in or traveling to Arizona that they could be "harassed" and questioned without cause.