"This is not a new issue," she said in a meeting with The Dallas Morning News' editorial board. "It's just putting together a comprehensive package that covers the immigration issues from A to Z. ... It's a priority for both me and the president."
Napolitano expressed hope that the effort, which has bogged down in Congress in years past, would not be as contentious as it was under former President George W. Bush.
She did not say when a bill would ultimately be considered since Congress and the White House are now consumed with health care legislation. So changes to immigration policy could be further down the road, though she has had meetings with Sen. Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat expected to take the lead on the issue.
"There is a bipartisan recognition that the current law is outdated and needs to be brought up to date with our current needs," she said.
Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, has dealt with the effects of illegal immigration for much of her career in public service.
She said an immigration bill should focus on the following:
. Developing or bolstering the penalties for employers who repeatedly hire illegal immigrants.
. Stamping out the new tactics human traffickers and money launderers are using to exploit the border.
. Developing programs that would allow seasonal workers to legally enter the country.
. Updating the visa process to allow students with capabilities the country needs to remain in the U.S.
Napolitano reminded attendees at the Fire-Rescue International Conference that the federal stimulus bill provides $210 million in Assistance to Firefighter grants for fire stations.
Congress also will waive the requirement that local governments match funds when they split an additional $210 million worth of Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants this year. That move will let fire departments rehire laid-off firefighters. The Department of Homeland Security plans to ask for double that amount for next year, Napolitano said.
"Cities and states are cash-strapped right now and we want to do things, to the extent we can, so that our emergency services continue our security planning continues unimpeded," she said after swearing in Cochran.
"In all likelihood, this flu will be back on our shores before any vaccine is available," she said.
Secretary Napolitano said shots to protect against the H1N1 virus should be available about mid-October.
During an address to Fire-Rescue International in Dallas, Secretary Napolitano said fire departments should begin planning for high rates of absenteeism, not only due to member sickness but from those having to stay at home to tend to children with the virus.
Secretary Napolitano urged departments to begin looking at leave and overtime policies. "Do it now, before we are in the midst of this next flu season," she said.
Fire departments also need to play a lead role in ensuring residents in their districts are well-informed and knowledgeable about the virus, Secretary Napolitano said.