President-elect Barack Obama tapped Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ) today to head the five-year-old U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under his administration.
Governing from the front line of the national immigration debate, Napolitano’s nuanced stance on border security and immigration policy have angered activists on both sides, earning her perception as a moderate on the issue.
Napolitano opposed the push to erect a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border but was the first official to call for the deployment of National Guard troops to bolster border security. Last year, she signed a law requiring revocation of business licenses from companies that are caught twice knowingly employing illegal residents. Earlier, though, she vetoed a bill that would deny student financial aid to illegals and another that would have required state and local police to enforce federal immigration law and arrest illegals.
Napolitano backs a comprehensive immigration reform law, an effort that failed in Congress last year. Napolitano supports a federal requirement that employers verify workers' immigration status. She also supports a temporary foreign worker program without amnesty.
As a former U.S. attorney for Arizona, Napolitano investigated the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. "She oversaw the case against Michael Fortier of Kingman, Ariz., who pleaded guilty to knowing about the plot by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to bomb a federal building," reported The Washington Independent: "He later testified against the two."
Obama’s transition office credits Napolitano with drafting the country’s first state homeland security strategy and opening one of its first intelligence fusion centers, the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.
Obama said Napolitano “insists on competence and accountability. She knows firsthand the need to have a partner in Washington that works well with state and local governments. She understands as well as anyone the danger of an unsecure border. And she will be a leader who can reform a sprawling department while safeguarding our homeland."
Napolitano, 51, was elected to office in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. A former federal law clerk and private attorney, she served as U.S. attorney from 1993 to 1997 and as Arizona’s state attorney general from 1999 until 2003.
Napolitano’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the full Senate; committee chairman U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Monday called Napolitano “a strong nominee” for DHS secretary.
The other nominees to Obama’s “national security team” include Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-NY) for secretary of state, retired Marine Corps Gen. Jim Jones for national security advisor, former Clinton Administration officials Eric Holder for attorney general and Susan Rice for ambassador to the United Nations, and current Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is nominated to remain in the post.