WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said calls for boosted border security should not block the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Napolitano testified Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, saying the Obama Administration has deported an unprecedented number of illegal immigrants, reduced the number of illegal border crossings and increased the number of border patrol agents to 21,000 from 2,100 in the 1980s, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"Too often the 'border security first' refrain simply serves as an excuse for failing to address the underlying problems," Napolitano said.
Protesters disrupted the hearing by chanting, "Stop the deportations," the Times reported.
The immigration service deported 409,000 people in 2012, compared to 25,000 forced to leave 1986, the Times reported.
Republicans on the panel sharply challenged her assessment, the Times said.
"I do not believe the border is secure. I believe we have a long, long way to go," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.
Other Republicans on the panel challenged Napolitano's assessment, advocating piecemeal immigration measures that both sides can support rather than wholesale immigration reform, the Times reported.
There is bipartisan support for both increasing restrictions on employers who hire immigrants and increasing the number of technology visas, but conflict over whether to give legal status and opportunities for citizenship to illegal immigrants.