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Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

Location: Washington, DC

Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

Subjects: Emergency Preparedness and Immigration Reform

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SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, thank you so much. Good morning.

AUDIENCE: Good morning.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: What a wonderful day, a beautiful day in Washington, D.C. Welcome to all who are here. Thank you for that kind introduction.

I wanted to be here to say thank you, to thank you for Esperanza's efforts to strengthen communities, and especially in this economic climate to help people and to work on issues like immigration, like housing, workforce development, education and health care.

You know before I was appointed by President Obama, who you'll hear from later, to be the secretary of Homeland Security, I served two terms as the governor of Arizona. Any Arizonans in the house? There you are. We'll talk later. But we worked hard to make sure that government served as a bridge to the many communities of faith in our state, that there was not an artificial division between people of faith and people in government, recognizing that we can help each other help others. And that's what we worked on there and that is what we intend to do here within the Department of Homeland Security.

Now, that's a long name for a government department that has many, many functions, but one of our key functions is to work with people in times of disaster, because in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I think we all saw that when government is not prepared to reach out to people and to work with people in times of disaster, terrible things can happen, and indeed, people can die.

And so within FEMA -- which I must say is much, much improved -- it changed and altered since Katrina. Lessons were learned, were incorporated. Many dedicated men and women have come to work there. But in the wake of that, we've really been thinking about how can we work with different communities to be prepared for disasters even before disasters happen, because they're going to occur in any state, in any community, whether you like it or not.

You may live in a hurricane area or an area that has tornadoes or earthquakes or floods or forest fires. It doesn't really matter where you live in the United States; Mother Nature can wreak havoc. In that instance, in that case, it's so very, very important that we think not just about what we do in the aftermath, but what we do now when things are okay and things are kind of peaceful. And you can help us with that, because the government alone cannot bear the responsibility for helping or preparing people for when disaster strikes. We want to be, as a nation, as a country, in a constant state of readiness and of preparation so that we don't have to live in a constant state of fear. If you're prepared, you're not fearful. Right?

And so we need your help to work with your community, work with your communities of faith, encourage people, make sure that in their homes, they have kept a couple of days of water and food. Make sure that they have prepared for their families a plan for how they get reunified, how they get back together in case they're split up during a disaster or an emergency.

Make sure that they've had some Red Cross, some first aid training, and you can actually offer it yourselves, reach out to the American Red Cross, bring them into your net to help with our cost and state of preparation so that our people don't have to live in a constant state of fear.

Help your individuals. Help your families. Help them be prepared. Help them have the confidence to know that whatever strikes, they will be ready. You will be ready.

And if we do that across this country, then everybody is not just sitting back waiting for the government to come to help. That's the wrong thing. We want everybody to be involved in these efforts.

So I hope you will make that commitment before you leave here today, I'm seeing some heads nodding. Not enough. So I'm going to ask you, will you help get your communities prepared? Yes. Will you do these common-sense things? I'm not hearing it. Will you do these common-sense things? Help prepare the community, and really, we will be so much more effective and then when disaster does strike -- and it will -- we will be prepared to work with you, because so oftentimes people -- the first place they don't go is a government office, and you probably know that more than most. But maybe the first place they'll go for help is their church, because that's where they're comfortable, that's where their community is, that's where they feel safe, and no time perhaps more in acute need of prayer than in a time of disaster, when maybe you can't find your family, you don't know where your children are; maybe your house is gone, so that the need for faith is even more acute than on an everyday basis.

So our planning for how we respond to emergencies, how we respond to disasters is going to take into account the faith community, build bridges there, work with groups like Esperanza and the groups that belong within Esperanza, because our goal is to reach out and to make sure that whatever happens, people have a safe place to go and a place to go where they feel safe and where they know and have confidence -- such an important word, confidence -- that we will respond, we will bounce back with all the resilience that the American people have shown for so many, many years.

Now, that's part of the Department of Homeland Security, but another part of the Homeland Security -- and it was mentioned within the introduction -- is, of course, we have primary responsibility for enforcement of our nation's immigration laws. Now, I know you were on the Hill yesterday, up in Congress, and I know that you recognize that the issue of immigration brings out passions on all sides. It's hard to avoid that. But I think there's one thing that everybody agrees upon, so we'll start from there. I think everybody agrees that the current system does not work -- does not work. (Applause.)

Our president has committed to opening that dialogue on immigration this year. I am committed to being part of that dialogue. I'm committed because I've seen what happens when the immigration system gets out of kilter. I've seen when happens when the borders are closed and people have to cross illegally through the desert. I saw that as the U.S. attorney, attorney general and governor of Arizona. I've seen what happens when people believed that operational control of the immigration system has been lost and how that rebounds in so many, many ways, and I've seen what can occur when people believe that the rule of law has somehow been left out of immigration.

So we are, while we look for immigration reform over the next years at the department, charged with enforcing the law that we have. And so, based on my experience and what I've seen, let me just share with you that we're committed to enforcing that law in a fair way, in an effective way, in a smart way, that makes real sense, so that, for example, instead of just going onto a workplace to pick up workers, we're actually developing cases against the employers who are making money off of those workers. (Applause.)

And we will continue to solicit ideas and thoughts about what we do with our immigration system moving forward. We have to come down to one basic principle. Everybody -- everybody in this room, everybody on the street outside, everybody on the Hill, where you were yesterday -- has to agree and believe that we begin with immigration with the concept that it is an embodiment of the rule of law and that the rule of law will be fully and fairly and effectively applied across the spectrum. And if we begin from that basic principle, we can reform the system that we have in a way that makes sense and that recognizes the great immigration and immigrant history and tradition of our country -- a country, after all, that was built on immigrants and the strengths they bring, the talents they bring and the commitment they have to building a stronger nation right here in the United States. So that is where we will begin, and I am committed that is where we will get to.

So with those kind of broad-spread messages -- one is to help prepare people for disasters that may come, make sure that they have some supplies in their homes, some basic first aid training, know how to reunite their families when their families are divided; and a commitment to instore (sic) the rule of law, to install and restore the rule of law within our immigration -- I hope I leave you today with a sense of the Department of Homeland Security, in the sense of what it is we are here for. We are here for many, many things, but what we're really here for is to give people confidence -- confidence that whatever happens, we can respond, we can react, and we can return back even stronger than we were before.

Thank you. Thank you for having me this morning. (Applause.)


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