Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says that, although safety is her top priority, there is no way around cutting back on border patrol agents monitoring the country's borders because of the across-the-board spending cuts, known as "the sequester," that went into effect over the weekend.
"The number of border patrol hours that will need to be reduced equates to the equivalent of 5,000 border patrol agents, so we have fewer border patrol agents between the ports of entry," the secretary of homeland security told ABC's senior national correspondent Jim Avila in an exclusive interview. "We're going to do everything we can to minimize that impact on our nation's security, but that's just the plain fact of it."
When asked about the Department of Homeland Security's controversial decision to begin releasing illegal immigrants from jails across the country last week in preparation for sequestration, Napolitano said she was not involved in making the decision.
"The decision was made by the people who operate this program that certain low level detainees could be put in an alternative to detention. They're not released. Some are wearing ankle bracelets. Some have to report repeatedly into an office and the like," Napolitano says, going on to add that she would have preferred the changes to have been made more gradually.
Despite the secretary's concern about the impact of sequestration on border security, she says the country's border with Mexico has never been stronger and says the time for comprehensive immigration reform is now.
"We need to bring the 10 million to 11 million who are here out of the shadows so that, we know who they are, we have their biometrics, and we're better able to then focus on narco-traffickers, and human smugglers, and transnational criminal operations, the big law enforcement needs that we have," says Napolitano.
Napolitano says there also needs to be a system for employers to verify the legal status of their employees, to cut back on the demand for illegal immigrant labor among businesses.
To hear more of the interview with Napolitano, and to find out what border area poses the greatest security challenge, check out this episode of Power Players.
ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, and Serena Marshall contributed to this episode.