KORVA COLEMAN, HOST:
We're going to turn now to immigration. President Trump announced a plan on Friday to cut aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. He says those countries aren't doing enough to stop migrants from coming to the United States and that it's creating a national emergency. One person who's thought a lot about border issues is former secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. In her new book, "How Safe Are We?: Homeland Security Since 9/11," which she co-wrote with Karen Breslau, Napolitano outlines what she believes are the biggest security threats to America. We began our conversation with immigration. I asked for her thoughts on President Trump's threat to close large sections of the southern U.S. border.
JANET NAPOLITANO: I think it's unnecessary and unwise. First of all, the economic impact would be huge. Mexico is our number two trading partner. There are thousands of trucks and vehicles that go through those ports of entry day in and day out, responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs within the United States. So just the plain economic impact of that would be immediate, and it would be deep.
I would recommend that the president approach the border as a border zone, that he flood the zone with the rule of law, that he bring on board more immigration judges and more immigration courts, station them right at the border so that those who are presenting themselves with their applications for asylum can have their cases adjudicated fairly and expeditiously.
NAPOLITANO: Journalists reporting from the U.S.-Mexico border, including NPR's own John Burnett, have said that Border Patrol agents are swamped and that border crossings show no signs of slowing down. Is there something to be said for President Trump's hardline approach?
NAPOLITANO: You know, I actually think we should take a step back and analyze, what is the source of this migration? And the source of it now is - are families fleeing the conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We ought to reinvest as a country in improving conditions in those countries, working on gang violence prevention, working on strengthening the institutions of government, the judicial systems, the law enforcement systems.
You know, we did something like that with Colombia when Colombia was essentially a narco-state. And the United States said, look - that's, you know, not acceptable. And there were people in Colombia who didn't want to live in a narco-state. And working together and putting some American resources into it, now Colombia is essentially a tourist destination. We can achieve the same kind of progress in the northern countries of Central America.
COLEMAN: You argue in the book that the Trump administration is focusing too much on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border and not enough on climate change. What needs to be done differently?
NAPOLITANO: We must do more by way of adaptation to the climate change that already has occurred. How do we build our roads? Where do we locate our bridges? What kind of building materials can be used? When a community is destroyed by a natural disaster, where is it allowed to be rebuilt? These are the kinds of questions that I think FEMA should be taking on in a climate adaptation regime.
COLEMAN: You've talked about your book as being a type of report card on how secure the nation actually is. And one of the areas you've marked as needs improvement is our response to foreign cyberincursions - not just into, say, states' voting systems but into power companies, private companies that hold private records such as health or banking data - and, of course, social media. How can we better protect ourselves against foreign saboteurs?
NAPOLITANO: We should have a commission on cyber-take up from clarifying the jurisdictions of the various federal agencies that touch upon cybersecurity all the way up to and including what constitutes an act of cyberwarfare and what are the sanctions that attend to that. Part of that, obviously, is working internationally because cyber doesn't respect or know national boundaries. And a lot of it involves working with the private sector because so much of our nation's critical infrastructure is in private sector hands - our banking system, telecommunications. All of these need to be brought to bear on this very complicated topic. But it is the homeland security issue of this decade.
COLEMAN: That's Janet Napolitano, former secretary of homeland security and current president of the University of California. Her book "How Safe Are We?: Homeland Security Since 9/11" is out now.
Secretary Napolitano, Janet, thank you for joining me.
NAPOLITANO: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.