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Obama National Security Team - Janet Napolitano, Secretary of DHS

Napolitano Brings Immigration, Border Security Experience


Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano

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Updated February 27, 2009

Position: Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Nominee

The DHS was formed in 2003 to integrate resources and tasks determined to be relevant to "protecting the American people and their homeland." It has sixteen different department components. These include directorates and offices dedicated to science and technology; budgets and appropriations; health affairs; immigration and other areas. It is also houses the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Secret Service.

Relevant Professional Background: Napolitano began her professional career as a lawyer in private practice. She entered public service following her appointment by President Clinton as United States Attorney (USA) for Arizona. In 1998, she was elected to the position of Arizona Attorney General. In 2002 and again in 2006, she was elected Arizona governor. She serves on a variety of associations and boards, and has been considered potential presidential material by a number of observers. She endorsed Obama in 2006 and is a member of his transition team.

Positions: Napolitano has had the chance to demonstrate her views on a number of homeland security related issues as the governor of Arizona, a state that shares a border with Mexico and thus contends with border and illegal immigration issues. She has initiated a number of steps designed to limit illegal immigration, such as penalizing employers who knowingly hire illegal migrants, but she has also sought to create routes toward citizenship. Napolitano developed the first "state homeland security strategy that highlighted the role of state and local law enforcement, information sharing and law enforcement-led intelligence 'fusion centers' for preventing terrorism," according to the Washington Post . She has also been supportive of new technologies , including the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips on drivers licenses and facial recognition software at state borders.

Read more: New and contoversial counterterrorism technologies | Napolitano on Immigration


The task of running the Department of Homeland security is itself a formidable challenge. The five year old department has 200,000 workers, a massive acquisition program, a big budget and an evolving mandate.

Immigration reform is likely to be among the thorniest issues Napolitano faces. The various positions she forged as governor were responsive to Arizona's context: the highly conservative state has aggressively anti-immigration positions. Napolitano will have to transfer and potentially amend strategies on a national stage. Immigration issues also produce heavily emotional conflicts between immigrant advocates, and those who strongly oppose immigrants' entry under any circumstances.

Napolitano's support for controversial technologies that are viewed as overly intrusive could pit her against advocates for civil liberties and privacy rights, at some point. The January 2009 announcement by outgoing DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff that all non Americans (even permanent residents) will be tracked biometrically on every visit in and out of the country, has already produced consternation, for both its overzealousness and its inefficiency.

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