Column: For Napolitano, another makeover
SAN DIEGO — Welcome to the political version of “Extreme Makeover.”
Today’s contestant is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is resigning to become president of the University of California. It’s a good gig. Currently, she earns about $191,000 annually. Outgoing UC President Mark Yudof earns $591,000 in salary, but his total compensation is $847,149.
The last thing Napolitano needs when she arrives on Easy Street is pushback from students, faculty, staff, alumni or taxpayers who might be angry about how enthusiastically she embraced one of the duties in her current position — deporting undocumented immigrants.
In that arena, Napolitano turned out to be a bureaucratic version of Dirty Harry. While she led the Department of Homeland Security, and supervised Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency deported about 400,000 people every year. Over her tenure, Napolitano is responsible for about 1.8 million deportations. Add to that hundreds of thousands of divided families, and countless individuals locked up in ICE detention facilities without legal counsel.
Welcome to California, Madame Secretary.
The Golden State is notoriously liberal, a dark blue state where Democrats in the Legislature no longer need a single Republican vote to pass bills. And a lot of liberals have already signaled their discomfort with the choice of Napolitano.
California is also more than 38 percent Hispanic. In that community, Napolitano is persona non grata, a scapegoat for the Obama administration’s repressive immigration policies. For Hispanics who voted for President Obama, it’s easier to paint Napolitano as the villain on immigration enforcement than to admit they were wrong — twice.
California is also home to the largest number of illegal immigrants of any state, and some of them are currently enrolled as students at one of the 10 campuses of the University of California.
As you can see, the incoming UC president really needs this makeover — and fast.
First, let’s assess the damage. I’ve covered Napolitano since 1998 when we were both living in Phoenix. She was the U.S. Attorney for Arizona and a budding politician who would later become attorney general and governor, and I was a rookie columnist at The Arizona Republic. I criticized Napolitano — repeatedly and harshly — over her cowardly decision to stay far away from the dustup over something called the Chandler Roundup, a massive erosion of civil rights where U.S. Hispanics were mistakenly scooped up in an immigration sweep conducted by Border Patrol agents teamed up with local police officers in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler.
In the 15 years since, I’ve spilled tons of ink defending the vulnerable and the voiceless against people like, well, Napolitano.
This is how she rolls. When she finds herself backed into a corner, criticized for something she did or should have done, she doesn’t just defend herself. Instead, Napolitano overcompensates and portrays herself as a champion for the cause that she neglected. She did it in Arizona, where I once saw her — after taking a powder on Chandler — try to represent herself to a group of Hispanic lawyers as a defender of civil rights. It was surreal.
Now, in her latest makeover, it’s happening again. This time, she is getting help from the left.
Napolitano has been “a powerful advocate for immigration reform,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.
“As a former attorney general and U.S. attorney in Arizona, she has a stellar background in law enforcement,” insisted Daniel Klaidman of The Daily Beast.
Napolitano has been “a strong supporter of immigration reform legislation that would pave a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” claimed Griselda Nevarez of the Latino website VOXXI.
What planet are these people living on?
Back in the real world, according to sources with firsthand knowledge of White House meetings on immigration, Napolitano was an impediment to Obama’s policy change in 2012 that gave undocumented young people deferred status and a two-year work permit. Yet she later embraced the policy.
Let’s get one thing straight. Janet Napolitano is no advocate for immigration reform. In fact, in all these years, I’ve only known her to advocate for one thing: Janet Napolitano.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.