Not everyone will be sad to see Janet Napolitano leave her Department of Homeland Security secretary post next month for a job in academia, leading the University of California system.
Illegal border crossings dropped to a near 40-year low under her watch, and at least one pro-immigration organization holds Napolitano responsible for bringing what it believes is an Arizona-style approach to immigration reform to the national level.
“Secretary Napolitano will ultimately be remembered as having spread the shameful infection of nativism from her home state of Arizona into national immigration policy,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), in a statement.
Alvarado said that with Napolitano resigning, President Barack Obama should consider expanding “the one bright spot in an otherwise abysmal record” by extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to the 11 million undocumented immigrants presently residing in the U.S. DACA provides a two-year reprieve for children living in the country illegally as long as they meet certain criteria.
“DACA granted much-needed relief to a small segment of the immigrant community and showed that administrative action can improve the prospects for legislative results,” Alvarado added. “Expanding DACA to the rest of the undocumented community is a necessary step to reverse the pain caused by Napolitano’s DHS, and it would be a helpful advance for reform efforts.”
He’s calling on the next Homeland Security secretary to work with congressional leaders on freezing deportations, at least for those who qualify for legal status under the Senate-passed 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Napolitano bid farewell at the National Press Club on Tuesday, saying her agency has grown flexible, agile and adaptable in operation to respond to changing threats. She added that establishing commonsense policies and priorities sometimes contributes to DHS’ successes.
When she took over in 2009, Napolitano said one of her first actions was to put priorities in place to protect the nation’s borders and enforce its immigration laws. Her tenure saw an increase in manpower and technology that caused a dramatic decrease in illegal crossings. She also prioritized deportation of immigrants who posed serious threats to communities and national security while making children brought to the country illegally by their parents a low priority.
But Napolitano said that despite these successes, there’s more work to be done.
“DACA, of course, is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform, which is the only way to face the long-standing problems with our immigration system,” Napolitano said. “But it is indicative of our larger approach: to devote historic resources to the border, reorient our enforcement priorities, and build more flexibility into the system. I believe we are a stronger, more effective department because of these changes.”
The House of Representatives has turned a blind eye to the Senate immigration reform bill, insisting that its vision of reform is different and that its members will take a piecemeal approach to do it right.