Napolitano Can't Say How Many Illegals Will Get U.S. Work Permits Under Obama Policy

Fred Lucas | July 19, 2012 | 4:13pm EDT
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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified at a House Appropriations Committee Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on Feb. 15, 2012. ( Starr)

( - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that President Obama was “as a general matter correct,” when he said on March 28, 2011 that his administration cannot suspend deportation of illegal aliens without approval from Congress.

She also did not know how many illegal aliens benefiting from the “deferred action” on deportation would be eligible for work permits at a time when Americans are facing an 8.2 percent unemployment rate. Napolitano testified Thursday to the House Judiciary Committee.

It was her first testimony since announcing the “deferred action” policy to allow illegal aliens under the age of 30 who have not committed an offense other than being in the country illegal to avoid deportation. The new rule was seen as an end-run around Congress after it did not pass the administration-backed DREAM Act to allow legal status to be awarded to illegal aliens who attend college or join the military.

During one exchange, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) asked how many illegal aliens under this exemption policy would be eligible for work permits at a time when the United States is facing 8.2 percent unemployment.

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“This was an issue that I thought about deeply before I wrote my memorandum because jobs for Americans are very important,” Napolitano answered. “My conclusion was, and we probably differ on this, but my conclusion was that there are lots of different ways to stimulate job creation. Some of them are before Congress now. But we shouldn’t balance the American economy on the backs of children who were brought here mostly through no fault of their own.”

Gallegly followed, “Do you have just an approximate number” of illegal aliens who will be eligible for a work permit? Napolitano answered, “There is no real estimate.”

Gallegly asked, “Could it be one million?”

“We don’t know,” Napolitano answered.

Later in the hearing, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) cited a comment by President Obama from March 28, 2011. Obama told a Hispanic gathering that he could not stop deportation by executive order because, “there are laws on the books that Congress has passed,” and that his administration can’t “just suspend deportation through executive order.”

Forbes asked Napolitano, “What the president said on March 28, 2011, was he correct in that statement?”

Napolitano said, “As a general matter, yes.”

But she added that it was not an executive order from the president but a memorandum from her to the DHS. She said it fits under the current law of prosecutorial discretion.

Forbes followed, “Was this memorandum that you issued on behalf of the president, or under the authority of the president?”

Napolitano answered, “It was under my authority as secretary, setting priorities for enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws in an effort to deal not only with these cases but a continued effort to clear the backlog.”

“Is it your opinion, Madame Secretary, that the authority you issued this under has greater authority than the president of the United States?” Forbes asked.

Napolitano didn’t answer the question directly, but said, “There is broad authority going far back about the ability of a prosecutor to set priorities.”

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