Obama said in a January address on immigration that he hoped to have a bill at his desk by early summer. A bipartisan group of Senators, dubbed the "Gang of 8," released a framework for legislation in January but still haven't finished a bill. A report in the Los Angeles Times on Monday indicated that the group is close to a deal on a path to citizenship, but members have complained that divisions over how to construct a guest worker program for future immigrants are slowing progress. A bipartisan House group has been working on their own bill, details of which remain closely guarded.
Napolitano, who has taken on a major role in recent weeks advocating for immigration reform, said that increases in border security and decreases in attempted border crossings had made the issue of what to do with existing illegal immigrants more urgent.
"We have driven down the numbers, so that the number of illegal immigration attempts is at 40-year lows," she said. "We haven't seen these kinds of numbers since the early 1970s."
She stressed that these trends undermined suggestions that border security needed to be addressed before dealing with undocumented immigrants and future legal immigration.
In a nod to the changing politics surrounding the issue, Napolitano also claimed that reform was not possible until recently. Republicans, even some who have publicly opposed immigration reform, have questioned Obama's motives given that he did not introduce a comprehensive reform bill in his first term.
"When I came here to serve as Secretary, it was not the time," Napolitano said. "There just weren't enough people ready to dive in and there were other issues that were crowding the calendar for the Senate floor and the House floor. But now is the time when this issue rises to the top."