Napolitano: Friend or Foe?

By Megan Izen Jan 15, 2009

With the appointment of several key folks to Obama’s inner circle and his meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, immigration is making a comeback. Last week, immigrant rights advocates in both faith and labor communities were hopeful about the possibility of comprehensive immigration reform within the coming year. And then there’s Janet Napolitano. The Arizona governor began her testimony for her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill today to become the new head of the Department of Homeland Security. In her opening address she said that as the governor of a border state, she has dealt with immigration as much as possible. While it is clear that Napolitano does have more immigration experience than say, Michael Chertoff, it’s up in the air whether we’ll see a more just and humane immigration system under her reign. Her approach to immigration policies and practices will greatly impact what progress is possible. The Immigration Policy Center released questions it hopes seen asked and answered during today’s confirmation: Immigration Enforcement: Since 1993, the annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol has more than quintupled to roughly $1.9 billion. Meanwhile, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has tripled to approximately 12 million. At the same time, the Bush administration has pursued aggressive enforcement tactics ranging from large-scale, indiscriminate workplace and residential raids to expansive enforcement agreements with state and local police departments, resulting in demonstrable harm to numerous communities. What is Governor Napolitano’s vision for effective and humane enforcement? What priorities and practices flow from that vision? Undocumented Immigration: Of the roughly 12 million people now residing in the United States without legal status, about a third have lived here for more than a decade. Approximately 1.8 million are children, and another 3.1 million native-born, U.S.-citizen children have at least one undocumented parent. What practical and reasonable solutions to undocumented immigration would Governor Napolitano recommend? Employment Verification: The Bush Administration has pushed to expand an Employment Eligibility Verification System (EEVS) known as E-Verify. Experience with the program on even a small scale reveals serious problems, including database errors resulting in legal immigrants and U.S. citizens being denied work, high costs for small businesses, and misuse of the system by some employers. Many experts agree that without comprehensive immigration reform, E-Verify will not resolve the problem of undocumented immigration. As DHS Secretary, how would Governor Napolitano recommend achieving an effective and workable system that safeguards U.S. workers from abuse, identity theft, and database errors that deny employment to work-authorized individuals? Services: DHS’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is notorious for providing poor customer service and permitting significant backlogs to develop while charging increasingly high fees. How will Governor Napolitano reduce administrative delays and backlogs of applications for U.S. citizenship, legal permanent residence, and other immigration benefits, and improve USCIS’s ability to provide timely and consistent service?