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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.

Like Michael Chertoff, her predecessor as chief of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet 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.

Like Chertoff, Napolitano knows that strict law enforcement alone will not solve the nation's immigration crisis. The outgoing secretary repeatedly said that the immigration crisis would persist until Congress passes a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR).

Chertoff made the case that he was "restoring integrity" to immigration law enforcement and border control. Once Americans were assured that the border was secure and that the government was truly enforcing immigration law, he argued, there would then be more political space for CIR , especially expanded temporary worker programs.

With the enforcement-first approach firmly in place at DHS, the new secretary is now signaling her commitment to iron out the wrinkles of the enforcement-first approach, including detention standards and the efficiencies of federal-local collaboration.

In a Jan. 30 departmental directive on immigration and border control, Napolitano says: "Smart, resolute enforcement by the department can keep Americans safe, foster legal immigration to America, protect legitimate commerce, and lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive reform." It is the last in an initial series of 11 directives issued by Napolitano.

In this new directive, she poses a series of questions to departmental officials responsible for immigration law enforcement and border security and expects reports back to her by Feb. 20. The questions indicate a shift away from Chertoff's hard-line approach, which often seemed devoid of any humanity or concern about the social, economic, and environmental consequences of the department's immigrant crackdown.

But the new directive will certainly disappoint those hoping for a rejection of Chertoff's law-and-order regimen for immigration by Napolitano and the Obama administration. Instead of rejecting the enforcement-only approach as inhumane, Napolitano seems intent on rationalizing and finessing the crackdown launched by her predecessor, while making improvements around the edges.

Napolitano is following the lead of congressional Democrats in insisting that DHS place yet greater attention on deporting "criminal aliens" and fugitives. For the past two years the Democrat-led House and Senate committees increased the president's proposed budget for deporting "criminal aliens."

Democrats like Sen. Robert Byrd (WV) and Rep. David Price (NC) insisted that DHS prioritize criminal alien deportation. Price also recommended that DHS end its workplace raids and instead use time and money to remove all criminal immigrants.

Napolitano apparently wants to expand the Secure Communities Program, an adjunct of DHS' Criminal Aliens Program designed "to identify and remove aliens unlawfully present who are involved in criminal activity." In her recent directive, Napolitano asks Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials: "How can we best accelerate its [Secure Communities] development and expansion?"

Rather than pulling back from Chertoff's initiatives to involve state and local governments in immigration enforcement, Napolitano is apparently interested in increasing this intergovernmental cooperation. With respect to the controversial 287(g) program, which she says "provides for agreements whereby federally trained and supervised state and local law enforcement officials can participate in the investigation, apprehension, and transport of unauthorized aliens," Napolitano asks, "What can be done to expedite more agreements," and "How does this model compare in cost, effectiveness, and administration, to other forms of cooperation?"

As Arizona governor, Napolitano deployed the National Guard to the border to assist the Border Patrol. Now as DHS chief, she is exploring new DHS cooperation with Guard units. She asks: "What overarching plans exist for coordinating with the Guard at the border? How could the arrangements for the Guard's presence be made more effective for support of DHS missions?"

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