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East Bay Express Profiles Janet Napolitano and Her Dismal Record with Immigrants, Immigration Reform

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napolitanoAt the East Bay Express today is a long read, but a must-read, on former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and a play-by-play of her tenure as the department chief.  Napolitano left last year to become president of the University of California, and protests — organized by DREAMers, immigration reform advocates, and allies — have followed her since.

It’s not hard to see why.  Napolitano ran the department that implemented President Obama’s record-breaking legacy of deportations — nearly 2 million to date.  The majority of those who have been deported were not, as officials have repeatedly claimed, high-impact criminals and felons, but mothers, fathers, siblings, and neighbors who have been picked up during traffic stops.  Napolitano had the power to mitigate this pain, to help ensure that deportations did not break up families.  But at key intervals, she did not — for reasons that the article claims have to do with politics, ambition, and her desire to avoid pitfalls on her rise to power.  Read excerpts of the article below, or the piece in full here.

In these pull-outs, the article details how Janet Napolitano and her Department of Homeland Security could’ve done more to protect immigrants in danger of deportation, but didn’t:

The information that activists finally uncovered embarrassed the administration: About 60 percent of Secure Communities deportees were people who had committed no crime or very minor crimes. This meant that the majority of deportees were people who Obama and Napolitano said they wanted to legalize. Moreover, compliance with most elements of Secure Communities was voluntary, not mandatory, as ICE agents had been leading many jurisdictions to believe. DHS was forced to issue press releases correcting this misinformation…

Moreover, it was becoming increasingly apparent that ICE agents, whose performance reviews were often tied to their ability to meet deportation goals, were creating their own rules. A study released by the UC Berkeley School of Law in 2011 found that only 52 percent of Secure Communities arrestees were scheduled to have a hearing before a judge; that about 88,000 families that included US citizens had a family member arrested under the Secure Communities program; and that ICE wrongly arrested roughly 3,600 US citizens through the program. And while “criminals” were becoming a larger percentage of those deported, “low priority” immigrants were still being deported en masse…

The reality is that, throughout her career, [Napolitano] did not do all she could administratively. She could have championed the much broader administrative alternatives proposed by her staff — including the issuance of orders to stop workplace raids, defer the deportation of all low-priority individuals, and provide legal work permits to these individuals. This would have prevented thousands of traumatic family separations and advanced the very goals she claimed to support.

Also disturbing are the accounts of Napolitano’s relationship with Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio — lately dubbed the “most expensive” Sheriff in America.  For decades, Arpaio and his department have run roughshod over the civil liberties of Latinos and immigrants in Arizona, abusing their police powers to raid homes and workplaces, often engaging in acts of racial profiling.  Last year, a federal judge finally put a foot down and subjected Arpaio and his department to a court-appointed monitor*.  But when Napolitano was Arizona’s Attorney General, she dithered in cracking down on Arpaio’s abuses — and in return, he endorsed her for Governor:

Napolitano won her 2002 run for governor of Arizona by a margin of fewer than 12,000 votes, and Sheriff Arpaio’s endorsement might well have made the difference. After Napolitano’s Republican opponent accused her of ineptitude in a child molestation case that she had prosecuted, Arpaio crossed party lines to defend her. He taped a television advertisement declaring, “She was the number one prosecutor of child molesters in the nation!”

“Arpaio’s ad is correct,” Arizona Republic columnist Richard Ruelas wrote at the time. “Napolitano’s record on prosecuting child molesters is stellar. It’s her record on prosecuting inept public officials that’s dismal.”

And rather than cracking down on Arpaio, Napolitano in some cases abetted him:

Although she knew from first-hand experience about the horrific conditions in Arpaio’s tent city jail — at this point Arpaio was fighting lawsuits over more deaths and abuses under his watch — she nevertheless suggested that undocumented immigrants be detained at his facility. “Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has agreed to assist in providing the bed space needed to house individuals detained by this squad,” she wrote to Chertoff…

[When Napolitano resigned as Arizona governor] She could have immediately pulled Maricopa County’s 287(g) powers. But she did not. Instead, she did so only after the US Justice Department published a damning 2011 report on unlawful violations in Arpaio’s jails including frequent racial slurs, punishment for prisoners who failed to speak English, and “a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos.”

Overall, the article’s conclusion of Napolitano’s record on immigration and immigrants is not pretty.  As former Arizona state senator Alfredo Gutierrez — a onetime rival against Napolitano for governor — said in the piece:

Unfortunately, in the context of the Obama administration, that happened to be millions. Now she’s in California, so she’s welcoming Mexicans into the bus. She’s an incredibly capable woman. She’s extraordinarily bright. She’s a great administrator. But unfortunately, when it comes to the undocumented, she has no guiding principle.


* The successful prosecution of Sheriff Arpaio was handled by President Obama’s Department of Justice, now led by civil rights attorney Tom Perez — proving that at least some officials in Obama’s Administration do get it.