Janet Napolitano was swiftly and easily confirmed as the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") on the same day that Barack Obama became President of the United States. Homeland Security is the department that oversees the agencies charged with executing the country’s immigration laws. Citizenship and Immigration Services is in charge of applications and petitions for change of non-immigrant status, extension of non-immigrant status, adjustment to lawful permanent resident status, naturalization, confirmation of derivative citizenship, etc. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutes those accused of violating immigration laws and enforces resulting removal orders. Customs and Border Patrol agents are the immigration officers that inspect and admit or refuse admission to those wishing to enter the United States. All these agencies are all under the umbrella of DHS.
Separate from this group, however, is the Executive Office for Immigration Review, otherwise knows as the Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. Those offices are under the Department of Justice which is supervised by the Attorney General. President Obama has nominated Eric Holder for the position as Attorney General. That nomination is expected to be confirmed shortly.
As governor of Arizona, Napolitano has been a voice for a common sense approach to immigration. She has previously called on Congress to fix the "broken immigration system". She has said that " it is fundamentally unfair and unrealistic to suggest that our system remain as it is and ignore the 12 million who ran the gauntlet at the border and managed to find work in our country. It is not ‘amnesty’ to require these individuals to earn the privilege of citizenship as have the millions of immigrants who came before them. We need comprehensive reform". She has also criticized the current system for derailing precious law enforcement resources in efforts to deport high school students rather than on combating putative terrorist threats.
Governor Napolitano’s approach to reform calls for balancing benefits with enforcement. As governor of Arizona, she declared a state of emergency at the Arizona-Mexican border and called for the assistance of the National Guard. As a U.S. Attorney, she supervised the prosecution of more than 6,000 illegal immigrants. She also established task forces to combat the manufacture of fraudulent identification documents.
Of course, the new Secretary of DHS can not fix the immigration system by herself. Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform and the president must sign it into law. However, it appears we will now have someone in charge of the country’s immigration laws who supports the changes that are needed.