Like Michael Chertoff, her predecessor as chief of the Department of Homeland Security, 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 that 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 in firmly 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. 20 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.
Those who were expecting the former border governor and federal prosecutor to call a halt to the immigrant crackdown and to the post-Sept. 11 border build-up will be sorely disappointed. There will likely be some changes around the edges, such as improved detention standards and monitoring, but no rethinking of immigration enforcement and border security will likely come from Napolitano. No questions or concerns about the multitude of issues and problems that resulted from the security-driven campaign to fortify the border and round up suspect immigrants – the value of the border wall, the central role of private prisons in immigrant detention, the wisdom of U.S. drug policy with respect to border drug-related violence, the decreased attention to political asylum and refugee policy, the consequences of workplace raids, etc. A professional bureaucrat and politician, Napolitano is busy organizing, systematizing, and improving the crackdown that Chertoff so zealously spearheaded.