As governor of the border state of Arizona, Janet Napolitano was on the front line of the immigration debate. As the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, she inherits a department that was recently blasted by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. The New York Times called the institute's scathing report a "portrait of dysfunction."
Napolitano joins Madeleine Brand to discuss what's in store for federal immigration policy. A transcript of the conversation follows.
Madeleine Brand: As governor of Arizona ... you signed the toughest law in the nation against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. How will you change federal immigration policy?
Janet Napolitano: We're going to do a few things. First of all, the rule of law applies on the border, and we want to make sure that that happens, No. 1. That means manpower. That means technology — things like ground sensors. It means interior enforcement against those who intentionally are going into the illegal labor market and creating a demand for illegal laborers, so that's all going to continue. How we do that may change with me as a new secretary, but we want to make sure the rule of law is applied, and it's applied fairly and forcefully across the border. And then we'll look for ways to, through our administrative process, facilitate the applications of citizenship for those who are entitled to become citizens. Are there things we can streamline, some red tape we can cut? Those are the kinds of things we want to look at as well.
This report criticizes the 700-mile border fence — very controversial, this fence between the U.S. and Mexico, a fence the GAO says costs $4 million per mile. Will you continue building that fence?
The section of the fence for which Congress actually appropriated the funds has been complete, but I've been one of the people out there saying, "Look, you cannot build a fence from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, and call that an immigration policy." You've got to have boots on the ground. You've got to have technology. You've got to have interior enforcement of our workplace laws. Some fencing in some places may make sense, but only if it's part of an overall system.
We have an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. What do you do about them?
Ultimately, that's for the Congress to decide, and at some point in time, I think the president and the Congress will work out when it is appropriate to take that topic up again. But right now we're focusing on human traffickers — those who are really exploiting this illegal market to great financial gain. We're going after those in our country illegally who have also committed other crimes. We're going after those who are in our jails and prisons who are also in our country illegally to make sure that once they complete their sentence, they're immediately subject to deportation.
I'm hearing a lot of enforcement from you right now. What about the other side of it? What about the immigration part of it, and changing immigration policy to allow more or fewer immigrants in?
Again, that's for the Congress to decide.
For the past several years, there have been controversial raids on places where illegal immigrants have been rounded up and deported, and often quite wrenching scenes of mothers and children being separated and sent across the border, and I'm just wondering if you are going to change the policy of these workplace raids.
What we are going to do is really focus on the employers and make sure that they are subject to criminal penalties for violating the law. I met with the attorney general for the United States, Eric Holder, to talk about how we unite the forces of the U.S. Attorney's offices across the country with our offices to make sure that those who are actually benefiting financially in large scale from this pay a criminal sanction.
It sounds a lot like the state law that you signed — this very strict law that basically would revoke the business license of a company that has knowingly hired an illegal immigrant caught the second time to have done that. Would you like that to be a federal policy?
Again, that's for the Congress and the president. You've got to deal with the demand side for illegal immigration and, you know, it's interesting, that state law. I don't think there had been any cases brought under it in its first year or so of enactment, but it may have some deterrent effect because we did see the numbers begin to go down in Arizona. Now, that may also be attributable to the fact that the national economy has taken a nose dive and the demand for labor has also gone down. Look, here's where we're coming from: We want enforcement of our nation's immigration laws; we want at the right time to take up the whole issue of immigration; and we want to do what we can administratively to help those who are entitled now to become citizens under our law to get through that process.