The Secretary unveiled plans for the biggest overhaul in a generation of the asylum system, to prevent illegal migrants from making "endless" appeals against deportation and allow immediate removal of those with no claim to asylum.
Patel said that the UK's current asylum system was "enabling international criminal trade" by encouraging migrants to put themselves in the hands of gangs for treacherous journeys across the English Channel in small boats.
Once in the UK, vulnerable migrants were stuck in a backlog of more than 40,000 people waiting for decisions on asylum claims which can take more than a year at an annual cost to UK taxpayers of over 1 billion pounds, she said.
Promising alegislation next year to deliver a "firm and fair" system addressing moral, legal and practical problems, she said a reform of the asylum system had been neglected through "decades of inaction" by successive governments.
Patel vowed to unleash the "full force" of crime and intelligence agencies against people-smuggling gangs.
The Conservatives had a proud history of offering sanctuary to Ugandan Asians like her parents in the 1970s, victims of the Syrian War and democracy protesters in Hong Kong, she said.
"No doubt those who are well-rehearsed in how to play and profit from the broken system will lecture us on their grand theories about human rights.
"And yet they seem to care little about the rights of the most vulnerable who are fleeing persecution, oppression and tyranny.
"Those defending the broken system e the traffickers, the do-gooders, the lefty lawyers, the Labour Party e are defending the indefensible," the Home Secretary noted.
Patel said Labour had warned that lives would be lost as a result of the changes she is pursuing. But she said that "lives are already being lost".
"So do not let them peddle a false narrative that Conservatives do not have a proud history of providing a safe haven to those most in need."
Declaring herself ready to bear abuse on social media and mockery of her accent by Tony Blair's former director of communications Alastair Campbell, she said: "As Conservatives, we do not measure the depth of our compassion in 280 characters on Twitter, but in the actions we take and the choices we make.
"I will not be complicit in an international criminal trade in asylum seekers, elbowing the most vulnerable to the side.
"Reform the system, prosecute the criminals, protect the vulnerable.
"That is what a firm, but fair asylum system should look like, and that is what I intend to deliver."