By Larry Jones

President-elect Barack Obama has appointed Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland

Security (DHS).  This is bad news for immigrants, and anyone who opposes the relentless assaults upon immigrants that have been taking place along the U.S. Mexico border and in virtually every state of this country. Remember that the issue of immigration was painstakingly avoided by both Obama and John McCain throughout their campaigns.  Now Obama turns to a politician usually described as a “centrist” and a “consensus builder” on the question of immigration, documented and undocumented. Her way of building “consensus” on the question of undocumented immigration is to begin a speech to a skeptical audience by asking “Who here favors illegal immigration? Nobody? O.K., we’ve got a consensus on an issue that nobody is supposed to agree on. Let’s go from here.” In other words, Napolitano’s starting point for building “consensus” is establishing agreement on the need to intensify government assaults on impoverished people seeking work in this country.

A recent article in the Houston Chronicle debunked the image of Napolitano as someone “soft on immigration”, and described her policies: “As Arizona governor, Janet Napolitano has declared a state of emergency and called the National Guard to the Mexico border to block illegal entry into the United States.

“She has signed a tough law penalizing companies that hire undocumented workers. She has billed the U.S. government, without success, for hundreds of millions of dollars to cover the state's cost of jailing criminal immigrants. And she has teamed up with fellow governors, including Texas Republican Rick Perry and New Mexico Democrat Bill Richardson, to pressure the federal government to secure the border.”

When Napolitano deployed the National Guard to further militarize the Arizona border in 2006, "She won accolades from every anti-immigrant group in the country.  Using troops was shocking," said immigrant rights advocate and former State Senator Alfredo Gutierrez.  She did this at the same time as armed militiamen also patrolled the border.

Immigrant rights groups urged Napolitano in 2005 not to sign an Arizona State bill to criminalize human smugglers as felons because it would lead to applying the law to their human “cargo” as well.  Napolitano supported the bill and signed it into law.  "We are the only state in the union where coming across the border is a felony," said Gutierrez. Now it has been revealed that the Pentagon, which under Obama will remain under the leadership of arch war-proponent Robert Gates, will put some immigrants who are here on visas on a fast track to citizenship.  They include medical workers and translators, much needed to carry on the illegal and immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Strange, isn't it, how the government whips up anti- immigrant sentiment out of one side of its duplicitous mouth and on the other side calls for immigrants to help fight its wars.


Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona', was catapulted into the national news in the '90s when it became known that in his jails, usually tents in the desert, inmates were fed rotting bologna, were demeaned by being forced to wear pink underwear, and required to work
on Jim Crow-days chain gangs.  According to investigative writer Tom Zoellner, this punishment was (and much of it still is) "inflicted equally on convicted criminals and those who have been convicted of no crime at all but are awaiting trial and unable to afford bail."  This often included undocumented immigrants.  (See

In 1995 Napolitano as U.S. Attorney was asked to oversee a Justice Department investigation into the horrible conditions in Arpaio's jails.  But her now-familiar indifference to critical problems led her to say, "We run a strict jail but a safe jail."  Two years later the Justice Department's report decried the use of such torture techniques as hog-tying, beating inmates, unnecessary use of pepper spray, and use of restraint chairs which led to the deaths of three inmates. Arpaio settled with the feds and promised some changes, yet he bragged that "The chain gangs stay.  The tents stay.  The pink underwear stays.  All my programs stay."

At a press conference, Napolitano stood next to Arpaio and, according to the Arizona Republic, "pooh-poohed her own lawsuit as 'lawyerly paperwork.'"  So it was no surprise that in 2002 Republican Arpaio supported Democrat Napolitano's bid for governor. Throughout her career, Napolitano has appeared to be a rather blatant opportunist, generally doing that which would advance her own career the most. 
Her looking-out-for-me approach had perhaps its most defining moment earlier in her career when, eleven years ago in Phoenix suburb Chandler, Arizona, what amounted to a gang of local police and border patrol agents rounded up anyone they even suspected of being an undocumented immigrant.  Some 400 of the undocumented were arrested and deported, and scores of U.S. citizens were also harassed and forced to produce birth certificates or citizenship papers.  When questioned about what criteria they utilized in their profiling, Chandler police cited brown skin, Spanish accents and a smell allegedly common to the undocumented.

While right-wing talk radio had a great time defending the roundup and trashing those who criticized it, then U.S. Attorney Napolitano's don't-look-at-me position was simply to state that she had referred the issue to the U.S. Justice Department.  As former Chandler City Councilman Martin Sepulveda said, "As the U.S. attorney, Napolitano spent more time figuring out how not to get involved.  I'm not sure how she, as the U.S. attorney, figured that she couldn't get involved in a federal issue that involved a federal agency, but she did. This easily was the misdeed of the decade in the entire state if not the entire Southwest. Janet Napolitano was a no-show."  (See


Many politicians utilize a "this-but-also-that" dual approach when talking about controversial issues, much as George W. Bush claimed to be both a conservative, yet compassionate.  So Napolitano has utilized the dualism approach to immigration, having become known inside the beltway for being "tough and smart."  On the one hand she has been a supporter of guest worker programs which would open a pathway for the undocumented to eventually gain citizenship (a Bush proposal which never got anywhere and tagged as an amnesty program by anti-immigrant groups), but also a supporter of expanded fencing along the border. Such an approach has allowed her to become something of a chameleon, fitting in politically with whomever she is seeking to please at the time.  In January the DHS issued its final regulations implementing the Real ID Act of 2005, a law that would federalized state drivers' licenses and the motor vehicles departments that issue them and created the nation's first-ever de facto national identity card system.  In August 2007, Napolitano was one of the first governors to reach an agreement with DHS to produce hybrid driver's license/border crossing cards to be used as substitutes for U.S. passports at land border ports and also fulfill Real ID requirements for domestic use. DHS praised Arizona's speed at complying with Real ID at the time.

However, anti-Real ID critics in Arizona pushed for legislation in June on this year banning the state from complying with Real ID, a bill Napolitano signed.  So it appears that her position on this issue is unclear, with one foot in one camp and one in the other.  Soon both feet will be in the DHS camp which she will head.

What is clear is that in early '08, when many expected her, as a woman, to come out for Hillary Clinton for president, she nonetheless endorsed Obama.  On November 5, Obama named Napolitano to his transition team and on December 5, she was appointed to head Homeland Security at the suggestion of the transition team of which she was a part.


Those of us who understand that there will never be any real justice for immigrants by relying on politicians to "fix things" aren't spending our time putting energy into pressuring this or that establishment politico, including Obama. Yet, getting rid of political dualism, such as Napolitano's militarization of the border while at the same time vetoing a few of Sheriff Arpaio's worst anti-immigrant legislative measures, stands high on the reform list of immigrant rights activists outside of D.C.'s usual political stable.

With Napolitano heading Homeland Security, the department's priority may shift from "protecting against terrorists" to attacking immigrants. Some immigrant rights leaders are advocating that the immigration issue should not even be under the Department of Homeland Security; that it should instead be under Justice or perhaps Customs, where former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a Latino said to be a bit more sensitive to the plight of immigrants, will be in charge.

Those with more long range views and analyses of the immigration issue believe that there will be no significant changes unless such issues as fair trade (as opposed to the so-called "free trade" which gives huge advantages to government subsidized agribusiness), foreign policy in countries from which impoverished people flee to the U.S. in order to feed their families, and economic development without the subjugating restrictions of the U.S. controlled International Monetary
Fund and World Bank.  These are noble goals within the current system, but such things will only happen when the U.S. ceases to be an imperialist nation, sort of like waiting for hell to freeze over.

At the very least, such radical reforms will take place only as demands for such change are made by a huge movement of people who believe in true justice and humanity.

Just treatment of immigrants won't be realizeduntil large numbers of rational people with internationalist and humanitarian values demand such change just as they did in 2006.

On the day after Obama's inauguration, immigrant rights groups have called for another such demonstration.  "On January 21 we will be here in Washington to ask for reforms and for an end to the raids" at workplaces that have seen illegal immigrants arrested and deported, said Angelica Salas, director of the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.