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Napolitano expected to take lead on immigration reform in 2010

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza answer questions after they signed a Letter of Intent to develop a coordinated and intelligence-driven response to the threat of cross border smuggling and trafficking of weapons and ammunition, in San Antonio on Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza answer questions after they signed a Letter of Intent to develop a coordinated and intelligence-driven response to the threat of cross border smuggling and trafficking of weapons and ammunition, in San Antonio on Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

After years of dealing with border issues in Arizona, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will have a lead role in President Obama’s push for nationwide immigration reform.

In Obama’s tumultuous first year, comprehensive immigration reform has taken a back seat to the economy, health care and the environment. But Obama is widely expected to push for immigration reform in 2010, and Napolitano may end up being the public face of the administration during the debate.

“Somebody’s going to have to quarterback that,” James Carafano, of the Washington think-tank the Heritage Foundation, said of comprehensive immigration reform. “I would put immigration on par with health care and cap-and-trade as kind of like one of these third-rail issues that can make or break a secretary.”

When Obama tapped Napolitano to head up the Department of Homeland Security, many observers believed her experience in dealing with illegal immigration and border issues as Arizona’s governor and attorney general made her an ideal candidate for the position. The apparent shift in priority from counterterrorism to other agency functions, primarily illegal immigration, was widely considered a sign that Obama would attempt to tackle immigration reform.

Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler said the president asked Napolitano in June to be his point person on comprehensive immigration reform, “as it moved forward down the road into the future.” In mid-August, she hosted a White House meeting on the issue, which was attended by about 130 stakeholders.

David Olive, of the consulting firm Catalyst Partners in Washington, said many of the associates Napolitano brought from Arizona to the Department of Homeland Security are experienced in border issues as well. He cited Maria Luisa O’Connell, who left her position as president of the Scottsdale-based Border Trade Alliance in August to head up U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s public affairs division, as someone who can help Napolitano in the upcoming debate.

“She’s got a long association with Secretary Napolitano, and is well-known and is very well-liked. And I think so long as she continues to bring in people like that, she will be able to lead better because there are people who understand and can articulate her policies and her vision for the department,” Olive said.

Of the 20 or so people Napolitano brought with her from Arizona to Washington, several have extensive experience with immigration and border issues and have filled similar positions at Homeland Security. Former Napolitano aide Suzie Barr now serves as chief of staff for the assistant secretary at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and former state Department of Corrections chief Dora Schriro works for ICE as an adviser on detention and removal. Former Arizona Department of Commerce Director and Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and Toni Morales, former political director for the Arizona Democratic Party, are now at Customs and Border Protection.

Jeanine L’Ecuyer, who was Napolitano’s communications director in the Governor’s Office, also pointed to former chief of staff Jan Lesher and deputy chief of staff Noah Kroloff, who now hold similar positions under Napolitano in Washington, as Arizona transplants to Homeland Security who have a great deal of expertise in immigration issues. Lesher once headed up Napolitano’s Southern Arizona office, and dealt frequently with border county sheriffs and federal officials on immigration issues, and Kroloff “was involved in every discussion that occurred in the office related to immigration policy,” L’Ecuyer said.

“Right at the top there you’ve got two people who are her right and left arms, if you will, who are (well) versed and experts in these areas as well,” L’Ecuyer said in reference to Lesher and Kroloff. “She’s got some really knowledgeable, really good folks around her.”

Carafano said the number of Napolitano loyalists who are in key immigration and border-related positions shows Napolitano’s intention to make her mark on any bill the Obama administration crafts on immigration reform. “She’s definitely micromanaging. … She’s definitely driving policy on immigration and the border in the department, using her people to do that. That is a fact,” he said.

Carafano, whose organization focuses heavily on homeland security issues, said Obama’s decision to put Napolitano in charge of such a key agenda item shows the president’s faith in his Homeland Security secretary. He described comprehensive immigration reform as a make-or-break issue for Napolitano.

“Giving her immigration was huge. (Obama) didn’t have to do that,” Carafano said. “They’ll be her policies. If they’re successful, that’s good. If they’re not successful, she’ll be the one holding the bag.”

Clark Ervin, director of the homeland security project at the Aspen Institute, a Washington think-tank, and a member of Napolitano’s transition team at the Department of Homeland Security, said Obama’s decision to make her his point person on the issue shows the president’s trust in her. But he disagreed that it would make or break her tenure at the agency.

“Getting comprehensive reform is important to her political future, but not indispensable. I think people understand that it’s a complex issue,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times via e-mail. “I do think the number of staff brought over is notable. I think it indicates a desire to be surrounded by people she knows and trusts. Understandable, but it can be misinterpreted by long-timers and new appointees as a lack of confidence in them.”

Obama’s trust in Napolitano seems evident in the face of her role in the immigration reform debate, and the former Arizona governor is reputed to be among the president’s favorite Cabinet officials. She shocked many in the political world by backing Obama over Sen. Hillary Clinton in Arizona’s Democratic primary in 2008, and was among the last four names on Obama’s short list to replace Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The extent of Napolitano’s prominence in Washington may be partly signified by the sheer number of people she brought to Homeland Security from Arizona. About 20 people have followed her to the department, an unusually high number, according to observers in Washington. And others who were close to Napolitano in Arizona have found jobs elsewhere in the federal system, including former chief of staff Dennis Burke, whom Obama recently named U.S. attorney for Arizona; former Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens, now an assistant administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and former Arizona Department of Transportation Director Victor Mendez, who now heads up the Federal Highway Administration.

Washington lobbyist Ron Bonjean said the number of people Napolitano brought with her to Washington is notable, but ultimately irrelevant to most people, as long as they’re qualified and do their jobs well. But he questioned the notion that Napolitano is among the innermost of Obama’s inner circle, saying that’s a perception held more commonly by Arizonans than others in Washington or the rest of the country.

“I think it’s more of a regional perception than it is a national perception. Because the Obama administration has taken on so many initiatives, primarily regarding the economy and health care, it’s hard to see on a national level how close she is actually to the president until a national crisis hits,” Bonjean said.

13 comments

  1. This is absolutely terrible. The Department of Homeland Security now will be making new laws to deal with immigration?

    Where is the Congress? Where are the representatives of the people? They are probably at their tailors getting measured for a new $1,500 suit.

    Our Congress is disgusting….. they represent nobody but themselves.

  2. Instead of pandering to the business community, our elected politicians must execute E-Verify as permanent tool to draw illegal workers away from the workplace? It must not be voluntary to be enforced, with serious penalties for employers who disregard the law. Heavy fines should be imposed, along with asset confiscation and for hiring a large force of illegal foreign workers a lengthy prison sentence. Nobody in the workplace should be exempt from being positively identified as a Citizen or a US permanent resident. Even the longest employed worker should be checked through the system. E-Verification should be built upon, with any new innovations desired to stop jobs being stolen from those legally allowed to work.

    Many ICE raids across the nation have proved beyond doubt the extent of illegal nationals taking jobs of citizens and how expeditiously these unfilled jobs were taken back by bona-fide workers in the poultry industry. Americans in the working environment should report any illegal activity to ICE, so they can investigate. E-Verify is the only substantial program in immigration armory that must not be weakened. It is evident that it’s operational owing to the tireless assault of the ACLU, US Chamber of Commerce to silence its function in the courts. Now is the time to pressure your reluctant elected official, specifically in California. This Sanctuary Refuge for illegal aliens and their families have been overloading schools, hospitals and government welfare benefits to pacify special interest lobbyists. Voters should also immediately mandate installation of E-Verify nationwide in vetting the janitor to an engineer, from a sheet metal worker to an advertising executive.

    When the welfare state of California nearly financially collapsed, it can be partially attributed to the massive population of illegal immigrants. The time is ripe to shout aloud of the decades of inflated taxes supporting education to K-12, free medical care and considerably more which stays intentionally undisclosed to the public. MAKE A NOTE OF THIS WASHINGTON SWITCHBOARD NUMBER 202-224-3121. Like never before we need the Nation Guard to patrol the border on a permanent basis, to support the undermanned region. Democrats declare in the town hall meetings, that foreign nationals have–NO–access to benefits in Obama’s health care reform.

    But if a path to citizenship or AMNESTY is not–TABLED–in the coming Immigration Reform session, then one-and-all, will automatically be provided for as new citizens into the health care program. In addition we must consider the gigantic onslaught of millions more who will try to join those already here? WE CANNOT EVEN PROVIDE MEDICAL FOR OUR OWN POPULATION? I CONCUR WITH A PUBLIC OPTION-BUT NOT FOR FOREIGN NATIONALS.

    STOP IT ONCE AND FOR ALL NOW AND START A POINTS SYSTEM FOR HIGH ECHELON WORKERS. The poor, uneducated will never stop breaking our laws, for an opportunity reserved for AMERICANS AND LEGAL RESIDENTS. LEARN THE CONSEQUENCES OF IRREVERSIBLE OVERPOPULATION, THE COSTS TO TAXPAYERS AT NUMBERSUSA, HERITAGE FOUNDATION & JUDICIAL WATCH.

  3. call congress -daily- @ 800 828 0498 or 800 220 0044
    Demand -OUR- IMMIGRATION LAWS BE ENFORCED !
    E-verify -ALL- JOBS & GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS !
    287g NATIONWIDE to FIND & DEPORT -ALL- ILLEGAL ALIENS !
    NO dream act —> illegals –>STEAL DREAMS !
    NO H 1 or 2 or visa lotteries !
    NO ag job –>SLAVES –>for fienstain & co.
    NO MORE ANCHOR BABIES !
    visit; numbersusa.com – capsweb.org – americanpatrol.com – cis.org – ccir.net – theterryandersonshow.com – outragedpatriots.com – fairus.org – wehirealiens.com -to learn more about ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION !
    firenapolitano.com
    NO AMNESTY !!!
    GOD BLESS THE U.S. !!!

  4. I think it’s time that obama and his thugs learn that any form of amnesty is not acceptable. We went through this before. Why do we have to go through it again?

    Illegal aliens are destroying this Country and if they can’t see that, their eyes need examined.

    Illegal aliens have made America the dumping ground for all their illegal alien children, then we have to school them and give them free medical care.

    I for one, am sick and tired of these ILLEGAL ALIENS snubbing their nose at our immigration laws and the many other laws of this Country. If our Federal Government can not ENFORCE our immigration laws, and get these ILLEGAL ALIENS out of this Country, then let the States do it! One way or another, an end has to come to this illegal immigration, and not with AMNESTY! Amnesty will only encourage more ILLEGAL ALIENS to invade our Country and reward those who broke our laws and raped the American taxpayer in many ways…depressing our wages, taking our jobs, overwhelming our schools with their ILLEGAL ALIEN children, driving without a license or car insurance, all the crime from stolen identities to rape, drugs and everything else.

    It’s time for ZERO TOLERENCE with these ILLEGAL ALIENS. It’s time for them get out of this Country and back in their own Country where they belong.

  5. Brittancus, We know that you are paid by the minutemen to sit and write these postings in all the immigration boards, People are not follies.

    GET A LIFE YOU Pathetic Human, If THIS IS ALL YOU GOT TO OFFER HUMANITY.

    YOU OR LAIRS AND HUMAN HATERS LIKE YOU HAVE TO GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR WAZOOS AND START LOOKING AT ALL HUMANS AS ALMIGHTY GODS CHILDREN.

    ALL HUMANS ARE EQUAL IN ALMIGHTY GODS VISION, ALL HUMANS WERE MADE BY ALMIGHTY GOD WITH LOVE.

    YOU AND YOUR KIND, WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO STOP ALMIGHTY GOD FROM DOING WHATS RIGHT FOR HIS CREATION. ALL HUMANS WILL LIVE FREE, REGARDLESS OF CREED, COLUR, RACE, FAITH OR PLACE OF BIRTH.

    EARTH WAS CREATED BY GOD FOR ALL HUMANS WITHOUT BORDERS, ITS HUMANS, ITS HUMANS THAT PUT BARBED WIRE FENCES, GOD PUT TREES AND FLOWERS :)

  6. Let me add this if I may. Now pay attention.

    GET RID OF THE ILLEGAL ALIENS AND YOU GET RID OF ALL THE PROBLEMS THAT GO WITH THEM!

    I repeat.

    GET RID OF THE ILLEGAL ALIENS AND YOU GET RID OF ALL THE PROBLEMS THAT GO WITH THEM!

    Got it, or do I have to repeat it again? Repeat it again? OK.

    GET RID OF THE ILLEGAL ALIENS AND YOU GET RID OF ALL THE PROBLEMS THAT GO WITH THEM!

  7. Immigration reform…? tank you but no thank you. I am in my own country ritgh now. Over here we are way better than back in USA. Your racists, please keep your country to yourselves. We dont need you, your immigration reform any more. You would have to pay me much more than you can to have me back there. You know what to do with your immigration reform….I dont need this trash. Get a life!

  8. Guys, stop whining about illegals taking your jobs. They are doing the jobs you wouldn’t ever do. Would you clean the bathroom in McDonnalds for 20 bucks an hour? No, i bet. They do it for much less, just because they want to have better future for themselves and their kids. Stop being money counters for once and see them as people who just want to realize their “American Dream”. Without these very so-called “illegal immigrants” Burgers will cost twice as much and this wil DIRECTLY hit your budget. Now all you have is just issue seen and heard on the street.

  9. ok, people – what’s more important to you? – a vibrant economy? Or a impenetrable border and the quick removal of illegals (and maybe a few legals who haven’t bothered to learn English.

    You can’t have both.

  10. The previous comment cited to NumbersUSA, a modern-day KKK organization…a comprehensive immigration reform must happen this year! Stop the human suffering. History and God will judge us harshly for treating millions of hard-wokring immigrants in such a way. Disgusting! Obama, keep your promise: you must give a chance of millions of hard-working immigrants!

  11. God Created this world and everyone in it, some americans feel it is ok to travel to other countries and settle if they want to but they have the nerve to call other people illegal immigrants, Get a life, you guys are just a selfish bunch of people, President Obama please pass some kind of immigration bill this year 2009 do not wait until 2010 you are giving ignorant and selfish people the tools that they need to be mean to good people who are just trying to make a life for themself and their children. President Obama do not feed their hate
    and encourage their hate crime, you have the have the GOD given power to fix this situation, PLEASE FIX IT NOW and end HATE CRIME against good hard working people who build this country

  12. There are many LAW ABIDING TAXPAYING immigrant sin this country who live hard lives daily because they are not citizens..how dare you speak out of ur rear end!!
    u know nothing about what goes on
    the immigration system under bush is in shambles!! its horrible
    dont bring ur xenophobia in the conversation.

  13. All you open border and illegal alien advocates are all bought and paid for by change.org and Mecha!

    There are two types of immigrants those that come here legally and those that don’t, bottomline. Those that skip in line should go back to their country apply to come here legally and wait like everyone else.

    Everything else about KKK, haters, and xenophobia is just smoke in the wind!

    We are a nation of laws.

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