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Janet Napolitano's Sorry Service Makes Her a Terrible Choice as Homeland Security Secretary

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And that violence has moved north away from the borders and into our cities.

There is little argument that Governor Napolitano was an accomplice.

She signed a piece of legislative mischief in 2005 known as the anti-smuggling statute. Designed to further criminalize organized smuggling, the law was redundant, and she was counseled not to lend her support.

"We urged her not to sign that bill," said former Senate majority leader and immigrant rights advocate Alfredo Gutierrez.

In short order, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas issued a formal opinion stating that all illegal aliens, not just the smugglers, would be prosecuted under the statute.

Arizona law now equates the impoverished human cargo with the smugglers who transport the gardener, the dry-waller, the maid, and the babysitter.

"We are the only state in the union where coming across the border is a felony," said Gutierrez.

Napolitano also signed the nation's toughest employer-sanctions legislation.

The heads of the cartels and the crop-pickers, the bossed and the boss — everyone is equally guilty.

In the same year that she signed the smuggling bill, Governor Napolitano declared a state of emergency using the fallout from unauthorized immigrants to garner seven-figure disaster relief from the federal government.

Responding to Napolitano's 2005 state of emergency declaration, Congressman J.D. Hayworth attacked Napolitano for leeching off the federal teat and suggested that what the governor ought to do is call out the National Guard instead.

An anti-immigration barnburner, Rep. Hayworth's crack-skull theatrics made him notorious. Washingtonian magazine identified Hayworth in 1998 as the second-biggest "windbag" on the Hill after surveying 1,200 congressional staffers. He once suggested that Arizona ranchers had discovered the hastily abandoned prayer rugs and Korans of Muslims sneaking across the Mexican border into the United States. Hayworth's dissemination of this sort of Internet gossip — mixed with his propensity for using disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who provided the Arizona congressman with sports-arena skyboxes for fund-raising — eventually led to his ouster by voters.

And yet Napolitano took to heart Hayworth's idea of the militarization of the border.

Aware that the congressman was considering a run against her, Napolitano deployed the Guard to Arizona's border with Mexico.

"She won accolades from every anti-immigrant group in the country," said Alfredo Gutierrez. "Using troops was stunning, shocking."

Gutierrez drew a distinction between her deployment of soldiers and the patrols of citizen militias who were also active on the border. The Guard was not used to hunt down Mexicans.

"She read the political tea leaves, so she deployed troops, but she also limited the troops to a supporting role digging ditches," said Gutierrez.

While the Border Patrol attempted to beef up staffing, the Arizona National Guard busied itself with support work that allowed the expansion of the controversial border fence that now occupies approximately 200 miles.

Still, Napolitano opposes fencing off our border, having rather famously noted that when you build a 50-foot fence, smugglers build a 51-foot ladder.

Not only did she send the Guard in to support work she did not believe in, she dispatched the troops shorthanded.

Last year, the Associated Press reported that the Arizona National Guard lacked more than $400 million in equipment, including some 100 trucks, tractor-trailers, forklifts, flatbed trailers, mobile tool shops, M-16 rifles, fuel tankers, and radios. It deployed with 39 percent of its "mission essential" materials.

Governor Napolitano hardly skipped a beat.

"We are still sound to deal with the kinds of natural catastrophes we're likely to experience in Arizona absent something truly unusual," said the governor in response to news reports. It was not a reassuring assessment and brought to mind the sort of double-speak made famous after Hurricane Katrina, not to mention the equipment issues that surfaced after the attacks on the World Trade Center when first-responders found their communications equipment deficient.

Between the virulent pedagogy of Hayworth and his anti-immigrant ilk and the superficial shape-shifting of Napolitano, Mexicans crossing our border remain Arizona's most volatile issue.

Since 2004, Arizona has counted a yearly average of more than 200 Mexican bodies in our deserts — people who perished on their way north. As of September 2008, we were on track with 152 corpses.

In response to a militarized border — as well as checkpoints, fences, obstacles — the drug cartels have moved into smuggling in a big way.

They have brought violence and extortion to our cities.

Phoenix police recently reported that the Prohibition-like criminalized smuggling has also spawned 266 kidnappings for ransom and 300 home invasions within the city's immigrant community.

Police estimate that, because of fear of deportation, the actual numbers for kidnappings and home invasions could be three times higher.


Janet Napolitano strode onto the national stage in 1991, as a key player in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She prepared witness testimony on behalf of Anita Hill.

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Michael Lacey is the executive editor of Village Voice Media, a group of 15 metropolitan newsweeklies that stretch from Miami to San Francisco. He writes frequently for Phoenix New Times, which he co-founded in 1970. In 1997, he co-founded New Times Broward-Palm Beach, and since then, the paper has seen circulation increase nearly ten-fold. Lacey’s work has been recognized in the following journalism competitions: Unity Awards in Media, Mencken Awards, Heywood Broun Awards, Golden Quill Awards, Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, Nixon Newspaper National Journalism Writing Awards, John Bartlow Martin Awards, Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Awards, Best of the West Awards, Maggie Awards, and the Arizona Press Club’s Don Schellie Award for Feature Column Writing.
Contact: Michael Lacey