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Janet Napolitano Supports Executive Action, Sees DACA as the Model

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Today, former Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, who oversaw the Obama administration’s aggressive deportation policy from 2009-2012, spoke out for executive action by President Obama:

Former homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano is supporting executive action by President Obama to change immigration policy if Congress fails to pass a broad overhaul, citing what she calls her successful 2012 push to delay deportations of many younger immigrants.

“If Congress refuses to act and perform its duties, then I think it’s appropriate for the executive to step in and use his authorities based on law . . . to take action in the immigration arena,’’ Napolitano, a lawyer and former U.S. attorney in Arizona, said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post.

Napolitano spoke ahead of a speech she is scheduled to give Monday in Georgia in which she will publicly detail for the first time the sometimes heated internal administration debate over the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Begun by Obama over fierce objections from some conservatives, it has deferred the deportations of more than 580,000 young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.

During her speech, Napolitano will describe the fierce battle to construct and implement DACA – and suggests it could be the model for further executive action:

Napolitano, who left the DHS last year and is president of the University of California system, declined to say in the interview what she thought of the president’s decision or to detail what executive decisions she thinks he should make without Congress. But should he choose to act, she said, the DACA program provides “a good petri dish on how you set it up, the budget stuff, all of those nuts and bolts.’’

The 2012 decision was galvanized by Congress’s failure two years earlier to pass the Dream Act, which would have given legal status and a path to citizenship to “dreamers” — young immigrants brought to the country as children.

Given the battles with which we engaged the DHS under Napolitano’s reign, we were struck by this passage:

By the spring of 2012, Napolitano was ready. She assembled a small team of advisers and lawyers. “I asked them this: ‘What can we do about the dreamers? What can we do short of a blanket amnesty? What can we do within the parameters of the law?’ ”

Her team recommended only a limited course of action: delaying deportations for dreamers who were already in the process of being removed from the country.

“I said that this was neither big enough nor bold enough,’’ Napolitano recalls in the speech.

Let’s hope there’s someone saying that same thing as the Obama administration contemplates its next executive action.