By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Hours after President Barack Obama was sworn in, the Senate confirmed now-former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security, an agency created in response to the attacks of 9-11.
Napolitano’s confirmation did not face any opposition: only a voice vote was taken on the Senate floor — no need for a roll call, according to Azstarnet.com.
The former governor succeeds Michael Chertoff as Secretary of Homeland Security, and is the first Democrat to head the agency. She comes to the job pledging to get tougher with “the demand side” of illegal immigration, namely employers who hire undocumented workers.
“You have to deal with illegal immigration from the demand side as well as the supply side,” she told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during her confirmation hearing last week.
“We do have employers who use the lack of enforcement as a way to exploit the illegal labor market to depress wages, to exploit workers in some cases, and that requires enforcement.”
Hence, she said DHS will focus on the main factor attracting undocumented immigrants from across the border: jobs.
She did not elaborate at the hearing on what concrete measures will be taken. But in written responses to the committee, she said she would “take a close look at the design and operation of worksite enforcement actions to ensure that the focus is on unscrupulous employers.” According to the Houston Chronicle‘s Stewart M. Powell, “she pledged to subject employer violators to ‘appropriate criminal punishment’ and to encourage employers to work with federal immigration agents ‘to establish sound compliance programs that prevent unlawful hiring.'”
Napolitano’s comments dealt with aspects of a larger immigration strategy that she said would include fences along the southern border in some places, technology to track human movement and revisiting the controversial Real ID program, which called for national standards for state driver’s licenses.
Napolitano also said improving disaster response, enhancing transportation security and tracking emerging terrorist threats would be among her top priorities.
DHS has already updated its website to include Napolitano’s bio, which as The Washington Post‘s Ed O’Keefe noted, “(i)n an effort to quell concerns that she lacks homeland security experience, (…) stresses her work as chairwoman of the National Governors Association and as a U.S. attorney.”
Napolitano resigned the Arizona governorship and was succeeded Wednesday by Jan Brewer.
With respect to the hotly-debated fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, the former governor told senators that this type of barrier makes sense mostly in urban areas, but should not be thought of as a way to seal the entire border. Instead, she advocated a “boots-on-the-ground” approach to enforcing immigration laws both in border areas and in cities far from the border.
During the hearing Napolitano was not questioned about worksite raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, a sore issue for immigration advocates — some of whom demonstrated yesterday to demand an end to the raids.