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What Role Will DHS Play In Future Immigration Talks?

Above: A police officer patrols the border crossing in Tijuana.

In President Barack Obama’s first press conference post re-election, he answered how his administration might tackle immigration reform. Not surprising, the first of four points was "a continuation of the strong border security measures we’ve taken.”

Read Obama's entire response.

This first, and politically crucial, step in the conversation about immigration reform is one that will be largely influenced by DHS. Monday night, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited PBS NewsHour to discuss immigration reform.

Buried inside the Q and A was a glimpse of the next big conversation after the fiscal cliff. And the success of DHS and the Obama administration is likely to be a key-point in the national dialogue.

In response to the DHS response on immigration reform, Napolitano said:

We have more manpower, technology. We actually have air cover now across the entire Southwest border, things that we never had before. And like I said, I started off in immigration and border enforcement. You know, 20 years ago, I was the U.S. attorney for Arizona. I have seen the changes. And I know what impact they have had, so that illegal immigration numbers are down to where they were 40 years ago.

Learn more about drones on the U.S.-Mexico border

But the conclusion that increased DHS manpower has lead to a more secure border has been questioned by the National Academy of Science. The “numbers” Napolitano references are more complex than up and down.

Some illegal immigrants give up. Others try multiple times. Still others make it. It’s useful to think about it like a website. You can measure the number of hits every day but if the same people keep coming back, you don’t really have a sense of your traffic. What you really want is the raw number of just how many unique individuals came that day.

Another factor is the growing power of the Mexican economy. Napoliano said the improving economy has been “very helpful” for DHS.

The fact is unauthorized immigration to the U.S. is decreasing. Pew Center found undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has decreased for the first time in 20 years.

But how that translates for DHS and the immigration reform is still to be determined. That is because there is an impeding cliff rapidly approaching. And, if we fall over it, the American and DHS landscape will drastically change.

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