Ex-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — who oversaw a sweeping directive that gave hundreds of thousands of young immigrants a reprieve from deportations — says she is backing President Barack Obama’s planned executive action on immigration.
“If Congress refuses to act and perform its duties, then I think it’s appropriate for the executive to step in and use his authorities based on law … to take action in the immigration arena,’’ Napolitano said in an interview with The Washington Post published Monday.
“It just seemed to me that we needed to do something for this group of young people,” Napolitano, now the president of the University of California system, told the paper. “They were brought here as kids, not of their own volition. They really are kind of the worst victims of the lack of immigration reform.”The comments came in advance of a speech that Napolitano will deliver later Monday at the University of Georgia School of Law. The speech, called “Anatomy of a Legal Decision,” dissected the internal debate over the federal 2012 directive, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that halted deportations of young undocumented immigrants and gave them work permits.
In the speech, Napolitano explained that the Department of Homeland Security began discussions about the directive, known as DACA, when the Dream Act was blocked in the Senate in late 2010. The bill would have legalized the young immigrants brought to the United States unlawfully.
“And so it came to pass that in the spring of 2012, I assembled a small team of advisers, including our brightest lawyers, and I asked them this: What can we do about the Dreamers? What can we do short of a blanket amnesty? What can we do within the parameters of the law?” Napolitano recalled, according to her prepared remarks.
Napolitano said the initial proposal would have only shielded young immigrants who were already in removal proceedings from being deported. But “I said that this was neither big enough nor bold enough,” she added — and ultimately, DHS issued a far more expansive directive in June 2012.
The comments are particularly notable given Napolitano’s role in implementing DACA — which is widely expected to be a model for the executive action promised by Obama later this year — and also because of her mixed history with immigration advocates during her tenure at the Department of Homeland Security.
The former Arizona governor came under criticism for an administration enforcement policy that led to record levels of deportations of immigrants without legal status. At the same time, Napolitano has drawn attacks from groups and lawmakers that want tougher immigration enforcement.
In a brief interview with POLITICO in advance of the speech, Napolitano declined to weigh in on what the the current Obama administration should do on executive action, nor whether Obama has the legal authority to issue a sweeping directive, such as halting deportations for all immigrants who could have become legalized under the comprehensive Senate reform bill.
“Clearly [in] our judgment, they had the legal authority to do DACA,” Napolitano said. But “every context has to be evaluated differently.”
After comprehensive immigration reform died a slow death in Washington this year, Obama promised to take executive action to ease deportations and unilaterally make other tweaks in the nation’s immigration system.
But Obama said last month that he would punt that decision until after the November midterms, as Senate Democrats grew increasingly nervous about potential political blowback from any sweeping order.
Napolitano’s successor, Jeh Johnson, is leading the administration’s review of its immigration enforcement policies and preparing recommendations for Obama on what kinds of executive actions the president can take.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/10/janet-napolitano-immigration-112222.html#ixzz3HZ00ZC3E