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Immigration overhaul bill touted as way to boost national security

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Passage of the bipartisan Senate bill to enact comprehensive immigration reform would make America safer, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

She said the bill would bring an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants out of hiding and allow the government to fingerprint them, check their backgrounds and identify who is living here.

“Knowing who they are is crucial to our national security,” Napolitano told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to vote on the bill and possible amendments in May.

The hearing was the third held by the committee since the so-called “Gang of Eight” released its bipartisan bill last week. No more have been scheduled.

The bill would authorize $3 billion for more Border Patrol agents, customs officers, and surveillance technology and would require everyone who is not a citizen to show a “biometric green card” to potential employers to verify their identities and reduce the risk of identity theft.

“It increases our body of knowledge,” Napolitano said of the new ID card.

The bill requires the use of an electronic exit system at airports and seaports that operates by collecting machine-readable visas or passport information to track departing visa holders.

Perhaps most importantly, Napolitano said, the bill decreases the motivation for people to come here illegally by mandating that employers use a federal database to hire only eligible workers and by making it easier and less time consuming to immigrate legally.

“This will relieve pressure on the border and reduce illegal flow,” she said.

In her first testimony since the Gang of Eight senators introduced their 844-page bipartisan reform bill last week, Napolitano said the bill's goals are shared by President Obama.

“It captures the core principles enunciated by President Obama in Las Vegas,” she said. Obama outlined his vision for immigration reform during a Jan. 29 speech in Nevada.

“It's a bill I'm very hopeful can move forward,” Napolitano said.

Asked if she would change anything in the bill, Napolitano said she would like more flexibility in deciding how to spend the border security money. The bill calls for $1.5 billion to be used for more fencing along the Southwest border.

Napolitano said she would like to be able to use that money on staffing and technology that might work better than increased fencing.

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