by Daniel González and Sean Holstege, The Arizona Republic November 21st, 2008
In making Gov. Janet Napolitano his top pick to head the Department
of Homeland Security, President-elect Barack Obama has signaled a
moderate approach toward immigration and border policies and laid the
path to pursue comprehensive reform later.
As the Democratic governor of a border state and a former federal
prosecutor, Napolitano would bring to the job years of experience in
dealing with border and immigration issues, something previous Homeland
Security chiefs have lacked. She also negotiated the political
minefield of the immigration debate in a state where the issue has
often reached fever pitch.
Yet Napolitano also could be haunted by her own words.
She has been a fierce critic of the federal government on a number of border security and immigration issues.
She criticized the decision to pull back the National Guard from the
border before the fence was done. She lobbied Washington to adequately
compensate border communities for the costs of dealing withsmuggling
and illegal immigration.
She also opposed the government's Real ID mandate for biometric ID
cards because it shifted billions of dollars of costs onto states like
The question is, after years of making demands, would she follow her own advice?
One of the governor's principal advantages is her ability to steer a centrist course, observers say.
On immigration, "she has a reputation that largely is one of not
going too far to the left and not going too far to the right, but
seeing the shades of gray," said Arizona State University political
science Professor Rodolfo Espino.
Napolitano also has worked with officials in Mexico on border security without disrupting commerce.
"She has made efforts to strengthen ties to Mexico and not shutting
down the border in a way that would be detrimental to the flow of goods
and people across the border," said José Cardenas, the former president
of the Arizona-Mexico Commission.
Matt Rojansky, executive director of the Partnership for a Secure
America, a bipartisan think tank of former national security officials,
said Obama and Napolitano are unlikely to chart a significantly new
course. Position papers by the Center for American Progress, which has
advised the Obama team, point to the new administration's goals,
Among the center's proposals:
• "Keep borders open, but make them smarter."
• Subsidize the cost of passports and secure identity documents.
• Make homeland security the National Guard's job and eliminate critical equipment shortages facing the Guard.
• Expand homeland-security grant spending to states.
These recommendations mirror Napolitano's positions as Arizona governor.
Napolitano has been critical of the federal government for failing
to pass reforms that combine get-tough border security and immigration
enforcement with actions that consider the country's labor needs,
including a temporary-worker program.
She edged to the middle on border security and immigration
enforcement, often to the dismay of the state's 1.8 million Latinos,
some 650,000 of whom are immigrants.
Early in her tenure, she supported allowing illegal immigrants to
obtain driver's licenses, but more recently she signed one of the
toughest employer-sanctions laws in the country.
She led the charge for placing National Guard troops on the border
and declared a state of emergency along portions of the Mexican border.
The declarations freed up state money to help border communities deal
with escalating crime and violence tied to human smuggling.
Still, Napolitano has resisted pressure from the state's
Republican-controlled Legislature to take an even harder stance against
illegal immigration. She vetoed more than a dozen bills aimed at
cracking down on illegal immigrants.
Earlier this year, Napolitano also yanked $1.6 million in state
funding from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to blunt his efforts to
arrest illegal immigrants through crime sweeps that critics said were
terrorizing immigrant communities and violating civil rights.
Napolitano's initiatives include pacts with governors of states on
both sides of the border. She created one of the nation's first
counterterrorism fusion centers, and set up state task forces to track
gangs, drophouses, stolen cars, fraudulent IDs and money wired to
"She'll bring an understanding of all the border issues, not just
security, but the social issues and economic issues, too." said Randall
Larsen, director of the nonpartisan Institute for Homeland Security, in
One of Napolitano's biggest challenges could be lack of funding.
"She will bring valuable experience in dealing with DHS' unfunded
mandates," Rojansky said. "DHS has a tendency to throw money at a lot
of problems. The money's not available . . . They're going to have to
solve the problem another way."
That issue plays into another potential weakness Napolitano brings
to the post. Some homeland-security experts point to her lack of
experience in dealing with Congress and the Beltway establishment.
If named, she would inherit a mammoth bureaucracy that answers to dozens of congressional committees.
If confirmed, Napolitano is expected to follow through with the Bush
administration's emphasis on beefing up border security, raiding work
sites and deporting more illegal immigrants. The strategy is aimed at
gaining public credibility in the nation's immigration system to pave
the way for comprehensive reforms that were shot down in 2006 and 2007.
But some fear Napolitano would place more attention on deporting
criminals and arresting unscrupulous employers while giving
undocumented immigrants a break.
"There are ways of softening enforcement, but they can't just pull
the plug all the way," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for
Immigration Studies, a research group in Washington, D.C., that favors
an enforcement-only strategy.
"She (Napolitano) has cultivated an image of toughness on
immigration enforcement, but much of that image is for show," Krikorian
Napolitano signed Arizona's employer-sanctions law "unwillingly
because she was afraid voters would pass a tougher" ballot initiative,
She also has criticized erecting hundreds of miles of fencing along
the border, saying, "You show me a 50-foot wall, and I'll show you a
51-foot ladder at the border. That's the way the border works."
Napolitano is also expected to review the federal program known as
287 (g) that allows the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and other
local police to partner with federal immigration authorities to enforce
Arpaio said he had lunch with Napolitano this week, and they
discussed a bit the possibility of her moving to Washington to work in
the Obama administration.
He said even if Napolitano alters or scuttles the 287 (g) program,
he will continue to arrest illegal immigrants under the state's
"It doesn't matter to me. I'm still going to enforce the state laws,
and those laws are pretty strong," Arpaio said. " . . . I think the
governor has an open mind."