Napolitano often critical of Homeland Security - East Valley Tribune: News

Napolitano often critical of Homeland Security

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Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008 5:38 pm | Updated: 8:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

If Janet Napolitano becomes secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she would be in charge of an agency whose operations she has frequently criticized as governor.

SLIDESHOW: Janet Napolitano through the years

If Janet Napolitano becomes secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she would be in charge of an agency whose operations she has frequently criticized as governor.

SLIDESHOW: Janet Napolitano through the years

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Napolitano has repeatedly insisted that the agency and its subsidiaries, including Customs and Border Protection, have not done a good job of securing the international border. And she has sometimes taken actions at a state level to fill the gap.

In 2005, claiming that “our federal government is falling short,” she partnered with Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours for the two states to do more to make the border between them safer and more secure. That included Napolitano’s grant of money to police agencies in Arizona to hire more officers and Bours’ commitment to set up checkpoints in his own state to screen people headed north to the border.

Napolitano did support the decision by the Bush administration to place National Guard troops along the border in a support role while the federal government hired more Customs and Border Protection officers. But Napolitano openly criticized Michael Chertoff, the current secretary of Homeland Security, when he began to withdraw those troops as scheduled after two years, saying the border still was not secure.

Chertoff said it was always clear that the Guard units were there as a stop-gap measure and not a permanent presence.

The governor, however, balked at using her powers as the commander-in-chief of the Arizona National Guard to replace the departing troops with soldiers from her own command.

“Since I believe the federal government has not put enough federal resources on the border to begin with, to put another burden on Arizona taxpayers would be a hard thing to swallow,” she said.

She also has publicly questioned Chertoff about delays in plans to build a “virtual fence” along some stretches of southern Arizona in areas where it was determined too expensive or impractical to erect physical barriers.

Napolitano has continued to point out other areas where she said the federal government is not doing its job.

Earlier this year, she vetoed legislation to require police departments and sheriff’s deputies to do more to crack down on illegal immigration, despite the bill’s bipartisan support.

The measure mandated that police agencies have a program to deal with violations of federal immigration laws.

Its wording, however, gave agencies a menu of options. One of those was to have their officers get that training to let them enforce federal immigration laws.

Napolitano pointed out, though, that Congress appropriated only $5.5 million for that training for the entire nation. The result, she said, is demand has outstripped available funds.

But the legislation said if federal funds were not available, the state would have to pick up the cost, not just for its own Department of Public Safety officers but any local police or sheriff’s department.

“If federal funding is not available, Arizona taxpayers would be required to pay an approximately $100 million bill at a time we are facing significant budget shortfalls,” she wrote.

While Napolitano’s position as a border governor has given her a front-row seat on the issue of illegal immigration, her position on dealing with the issue was a little slow in developing. And it took some prodding by Arizona voters to bring her along.

For example, in 2003 the governor said she would sign legislation to allow people in this country illegally to have a state driver’s license. It was only after the issue arose in her 2006 campaign that she abandoned that position.

In 2004, Napolitano openly opposed a ballot measure to deny certain state benefits to people not in this country legally. The same measure also contained provisions to require proof of citizenship to register to vote and identification to cast a ballot.

Despite her opposition, the measure was approved by a wide margin.

Napolitano, working with fellow Democrat Attorney General Terry Goddard, then engaged in a protracted fight to limit the scope of exactly what services were now off-limits to illegal immigrants. She ended up prevailing in that legal fight, but not before generating some negative publicity.

Even after that, Napolitano was slow to recognize public frustration with illegal immigration, vetoing bills to deny the lower resident tuition to students at state universities who are not here legally as well as to declare English the state’s official language. In both cases, though, voters overrode her decisions by approving the same measures at the ballot box in 2006.

But the governor eventually came around to supporting legislation to punish companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers.

That bill eventually became what is believed to be the toughest law of its type in the country. And it has so far withstood challenges to its legality.

Napolitano was publicly supportive of an immigration reform proposal pushed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. That included providing a path to legal status for the more than 10 million people estimated to be in this country illegally.

That provision sunk the federal legislation as critics instead sought stricter enforcement of existing laws before dealing with the question of those who already are here illegally.

Napolitano also has been engaged in a running battle over what she said is the failure of the federal government to meet its legal obligations to reimburse states for the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants who have been convicted of violating state laws.

That obligation is now growing at the rate of $10 million a month, with the latest bill going to Washington for more than $501 million. That fight is not with Homeland Security, but instead with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is supposed to pay the invoice.

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