Immigration Implications: What Does Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security Mean for Reform?

Barack Obama and Janet Napolitano -- Getty Images

As Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano appears ready to become the first Democratic secretary of Homeland Security, pro- and anti-immigration observers are trying to decipher what her designation will mean for the future of immigration laws under President Barack Obama.

Napolitano, Spanish wire Agencia EFE remembered today, declared a state of emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border and was the first governor to ask for National Guard troops to be deployed to secure the border between the two countries. She has also vetoed tough immigration enforcement bills put forward by state Republicans and advocated measures like the prosecution of companies that hire undocumented workers. Overall she is seen as more of a hardliner on immigration than most Democrats.

Napolitano’s approach on immigration is fundamentally pragmatic, her friend and think tank founder Fred DuVal told the Christian Science Monitor, adding her philosophy is, “Drop the ideology and let’s talk about what we need to both make the border secure and the relationship with Mexico functional.”

“Napolitano is probably the closest the Democrats could get to an immigration hawk,” Mark Kirkorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank advocating low immigration rates, told reporter Matthew Bell of nationally-syndicated radio show The World. [You can hear Bell’s report here.]

Kirkorian said the choice of Napolitano may be part of an Obama strategy aiming to pass a comprehensive reform bill that would include “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S.:

Clearly that may be what they have in mind: get somebody as tough as they could find as a Democratic governor in Homeland Security, so that down the road they could make a case for legalization based on credibility, a track record of credibility on enforcement.

Tom Barry, an analyst at the Center for International Policy, disagreed. He told Bell,

I don’t think that we should be hopeful that (immigration reform) will happen any time soon, I don’t think in this administration. She doesn’t have the power to move it forward, she will be focused on not only immigration but other Homeland Security issues.

Arizona Spanish-language newspaper La Voz reported that the state’s Democrats will be sad to see Napolitano go to Washington — especially since her position will be filled by Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer.

In terms of immigration enforcement, state Rep. Ben Miranda told La Voz that he didn’t think state policies “will get worse than they already are.”

In fact, the newspaper said, some local Latino politicians hope Napolitano’s new post will help lead to a comprehensive solution on the matter of immigration.

“We would lose a great governor,” said state Rep. Steve Gallardo, “but we would win a very influential and intelligent voice in Washington.”

UPDATE: On Friday, Governor Napolitano again declined to comment on her possible naming to Homeland Security, according to The Associated Press, but she said “she still thinks National Guard troops should be sent back to the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Napolitano says that “as governor of Arizona,” that’s something she has advocated with other border state governors and still believes in.

Guard troops were deployed for two years to support the Border Patrol as it hired more agents, but the troops left in July.

Napolitano wouldn’t say on Friday if she’s been offered the Homeland Security post. It includes overseeing the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

And she won’t say whether she’ll try to redeploy Guard troops to the border if she becomes Homeland Security secretary.

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AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.