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Janet Napolitano Is Just Finessing Bush's Crackdown on Migrant Workers

Napolitano doesn't have the power to change immigration law. She's there to administer the department, enforce the law, and keep the homeland secure.

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Napolitano is also seeking increased state and local cooperation in the DHS' effort to locate imprisoned and jailed immigrants so that they will be immediately deported upon release. "What measures are needed," she inquires, rightfully, "and with what priority, to secure expansion of this resource-saving program?"

After Sept. 11 and as a complement to the USA Patriot Act, the Bush administration created Fugitive Operations Teams to hunt down "fugitive aliens." Initially, immigrants deemed a threat to national security were the priority, but finding few of these, the teams began casting a wider and wider net, prioritizing those with criminal records deemed dangerous to communities, and secondarily those with misdemeanors. From only a couple of dozen teams at the creation of DHS in early 2003, the department now has 104 seven-person teams deployed around the country.

"How can fugitives be more effectively prioritized for these purposes and what steps can be taken to expedite removal?" she asks. And in evident recognition of the mounting criticism that the raids by the Fugitive Operations Teams are resulting in an increasing proportion of "collateral" arrests, she advises that the department should "clearly differentiate the number of fugitives that are actually removed versus those aliens unlawfully present who are simply encountered by the teams while on assignment."

As a candidate, Obama declared his support for an employment verification program that would make it impossible for illegal immigrants to find employment in the economy's formal sector. While the DHS has postponed the required implementation of the E-Verify Program, Napolitano's directive indicates that DHS is committed to instituting the program as a key component of its strategy to enforce immigration law. Recognizing the problem of "false negatives" and "false positives," she seems intent on improving the reliability of the program, rather than rejecting it, as immigrant-rights, civil-libertarian, and labor organizations advocate.

"Reducing unauthorized employment is crucial for controlling the problem of illicit migration," states Napolitano. "E-Verify has been a key component in proposals for comprehensive immigration reform and holds real promise as a central element in effective immigration enforcement that combines border efforts with interior measures."

"How can DHS expand such monitoring, including alternative strategies such as electronic detection of suspicious patterns, with an indication of resource requirements? What role could data-mining or other innovative strategies play in helping to identify false positives and false negatives?" are among the questions she wants answered.

Among the directives there were a few indications that Napolitano might have a softer touch than Chertoff. Pointing to "recent media accounts," she expresses concern that petitions for legal residency by immigrant widows and widowers of now-deceased U.S. citizens have been denied by the department's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. "What are the regulatory, legislative, and litigation options that could be considered to immediately address the situation of these widows and widowers?" she asks.

Her latest directive also contains a small section devoted to immigrant detention. She asks if the detention standards are adequate, if they apply to all detention centers used for ICE detainees, and what corrective actions are taken if the standards are violated. In a sign that may recognize the validity of criticism that immigrant detention is often unnecessary, Napolitano asks, "What are the prospects, advantages, and disadvantages of expanding the use of community-based alternatives to detention or of less restrictive models of detention?"

There is also a section on southbound arms smuggling in the wide-ranging directive, indicating the new DHS chief's concern about the "growing wave of criminal violence in Mexico's border communities and in the interior of the country, fueled by the availability of guns and currency smuggled south from the United States."

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