WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Immigration is the top legislative priority for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security this year, Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday.
“I would say our No. 1 priority in terms of legislation is immigration,” Napolitano said during a Politico Playbook breakfast that marked the 10th anniversary of the agency’s opening.
Napolitano attended the event with the two other previous homeland secretaries, Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, in their only joint appearance marking the milestone.
Napolitano also said “several hundred” — not “thousands” as reported by news media — detainees were released from detention centers as a cost-saving measure against budget uncertainties linked to last week’s across-the-board $85 billion cut in federal spending and other pending budget fights. She also said those moved were low-risk.
“With sequestration looming and the end of the [continuing resolution] in a couple weeks, it’s like the perfect storm,” Napolitano said. “We really have to manage so many different things because we don’t have a budget.”
Ridge said the lack of a coherent immigration policy left the department doing “triage,” Politico said.
“We’ve had three secretaries that had to do triage because Congress cannot find a way to create an immigration policy … a broad-based immigration policy for the United States of America,” he said. “The job of the secretary of Homeland Security … with regard to securing the borders would be a heck of a lot easier if the U.S. Congress would forget about partisanship [to] come up with a broad-based comprehensive immigration plan. The story ends right there.”
The sequester’s effects go beyond detention centers, Napolitano said.
“Now that we are having to reduce or eliminate basically overtime both for TSA and for customs; now that we have instituted a hiring freeze … we will begin today sending out furlough notices,” Napolitano said.