Arizona Governor Napolitano tapped as new Homeland Security chief
The vocal immigration reformer brings border-state experience to the post.
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Her responsibilities would include such high-profile and hot-topic issues as immigration enforcement, federal disaster response, and airport security.
As a border-state governor, Ms. Napolitano brings experience to the role of immigration enforcement. She vetoed several tough illegal immigration bills put forward by state Republicans. She also supported the comprehensive reform efforts in Washington that were ultimately shot down last year by opponents of illegal immigration.
Napolitano has been skeptical that building a fence along the border will solve the immigration problem. She once said, “You build a 50-foot wall, somebody will find a 51-foot ladder.”
However, she also was the first governor to call in the National Guard to beef up border patrols. And her state passed a law last year that requires all Arizona businesses to use the federal online database, E-Verify, to confirm that new hires have valid Social Security numbers and are eligible for employment. This has been a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s immigration policy.
“She’s close and personal with a lot of border and immigration issues.… That’s probably the single greatest thing she brings to the mix,” says James Carafano, an expert on homeland security at the Heritage Foundation. “Arizona has done a lot of pioneering stuff [on immigration]: They have mandatory E-Verify across the state, they’ve tried to crack down with workplace enforcement.”
Napolitano’s approach on immigration is fundamentally pragmatic, says Fred DuVal, founding chairman of the think tank Western Progress and a friend of the governor. Her thinking is, “Drop the ideology and let’s talk about what we need to both make the border secure and the relationship with Mexico functional,” Mr. DuVal says. He adds that Napolitano has a close relationship with her counterpart on the other side of the border in the Mexican state of Sonora.
“She is extremely smart, very prepared, and she absorbs policy material aggressively. She’s in command of the subject and the room by the strength of her knowledge and personality. But she does it with a pleasure in governing that’s quite infectious,” DuVal says.
As governor she has also overseen wildfire and flooding disaster relief efforts and worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is now part of the Homeland Security Department.
Congress and a reluctant Bush administration created the department in response to the failures of federal agencies to coordinate effectively in the run-up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.