1:41 P.M. EDT, Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Msnbc “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Interview With Department Of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
Subject: Newly Passed Arizona Immigration Reform Law; Gulf Coast Oil Spill; Supreme Court Vacancy Interviewer: Andrea Mitchell
Ms. Mitchell: Mexico has issued a travel alert today warning its citizens about the risk of travel to Arizona because of a new immigration law, but defenders of the law now, including Senator John McCain, say that Arizona has to step in because the federal government failed to secure the borders.
Janet Napolitano has been dealing with this issue for the better part of two decades, first, as a U.S. attorney, then as attorney general in Arizona, then governor and, now, secretary of Homeland Security.
Welcome, Madame Secretary. This issue is following you everywhere you go. (Laughter.) And most recently on the Hill today when you had a contentious hearing. Lindsey Graham, of course, major player who’s pulled back from climate change legislation this week saying that immigration reform should not be brought up. He said at the hearing that the administration would crash and burn if you guys take on immigration reform.
And your position on that? You countered him.
Sec. Napolitano: Well, the president believes that the Congress needs to take up immigration reform, and he looks to forging a bipartisan consensus with which to do it. And that’s the big hole here.
Ms. Mitchell: It’s political dynamite.
Sec. Napolitano: Well, it is and it isn’t. I mean, I’ve dealt with immigration politics a long time, and the plain fact of the matter is that the system needs reform. We need updated enforcement tools. We need to deal realistically and firmly with those already in the country. And we need to have some way to deal with some of the worker issues that are involved.
Congress knows this. Actually, major parts of a bill have already been drafted, the logistics worked through. But now, it’s a matter of political will.
Ms. Mitchell: What is your position on the record about the Arizona bill? You know, as a governor and as a prosecutor, all the pressures being brought to bear. But now, your successor has signed this bill which takes effect in 90 days unless there’s a legal challenge that, somehow, stops it with a preliminary injunction.
Sec. Napolitano: Right. And the Department of Justice is looking at a potential legal challenge and looking at what the kinds of challenges could be.
But let me say what I said when the bill was signed; that I thought it was unfortunate and misguided; that I think it will not be value-added to law enforcement, indeed, it will detract from some of the efforts that are already under way to really focus on the most serious offenders, the most serious criminals, the ones that not only have crossed the border illegally but are committing other crimes.
And so, you know, it’s unfortunate that the bill was enacted.
Ms. Mitchell: Do you see it as a violation of civil rights?
Sec. Napolitano: I —
Ms. Mitchell: I’m not asking you a technical or a legal question. I know that’s up to Justice. But your gut check on this?
Sec. Napolitano: You know, I think that it is a very difficult bill to enforce in a racially neutral way.
Ms. Mitchell: This is what John McCain, of course, facing a tough reelection challenge, had to say about it.
(Begin video clip.)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): The people in Southern Arizona have had their rights violated by the unending and constant flow of drug smugglers and human traffickers across their property. If you don’t like the bill, the legislation that the legislature passed and the governor signed in Arizona, then carry out the federal responsibilities which are to secure the border. You probably wouldn’t have had this problem.
(End video clip.)
Ms. Mitchell: Does he have a point?
Sec. Napolitano: Well, not really, in a way. Let me just say, look, there is a lot of — there is still a lot of illegal immigration across, particularly, the Arizona border. But it is way down from where it has been ever in my recollection.
And not only that, there are more law enforcement resources that have been deployed to Arizona and the southwest border than ever. And every marker that the Congress has set for enforcement at the southwest border has been met and exceeded. And so part of it is the continuing need to enforce that, to sustain that. We know that. I know that, as someone who’s been a prosecutor down there.
Those efforts will continue, but they can’t, alone, suffice. And at some point, the Congress is going to need to take up reform.
Ms. Mitchell: Mexico’s President Calderon said today that this could hurt U.S.-Mexican relations.
Sec. Napolitano: Well, obviously, they’ve sent out a travel advisory vis-a-vis Arizona. And, again, you know, Arizona is, as a state — I’ve been governor there — has had a traditionally warm relationship withMexico, a tremendous amount of commerce goes on there.
Mexico is Arizona number-one trading partner. That’s lots of jobs. Mexico is the number-one or two trading partner with 22 separate states. That’s a lot of jobs.
Ms. Mitchell: But you can’t blame him given — he’s got to protect his citizens. And as far as he can read the law, they can be arrested for being — or stopped and searched — for being Mexican, for having a skin color that makes them appear to be more dark- skinned.
Sec. Napolitano: Well, and, you know, I think we all look forward to President Calderon’s visit here in Washington next month. I’m sure this will be some of the discussion with the president.
But, again, I think the number-one thing that needs to happen is to forge a bipartisan consensus that involves enforcement, that involves other worker or temporary worker-flow issues, and that deals with those already in the country, makes them pay a fine or another sanction for breaking the law, learn English, register — we get their biometrics, which is a security issue for us — and then move forward.
Ms. Mitchell: You really think that this White House can take on this issue and push through legislation? It may well have derailed any chance for climate change legislation which was ready to go on Monday.
Sec. Napolitano: There are all these linkages that happen here in Washington, D.C., that, frankly, the plain fact of the matter is that Washington, D.C., we need to multitask. These are all major priorities for the country, and they will move the country ahead and stand us in good stead for this new century.
Ms. Mitchell: Now, speaking of the environment, on top of all your other jobs, you’re in charge of the Coast Guard.
Sec. Napolitano: Yes.
Ms. Mitchell: And you’re watching very, very closely the efforts to contain that oil spill. What can you tell us as the threat remains of it approaching landfall and then, with the wetlands, the very vulnerable area in the Louisiana coast?
Sec. Napolitano: I can say that, from the beginning, contingency plans have been enacted on a worst-case scenario so everyone has leaned forward so that, boom, dispersants, skimmers are all there to keep the oil offshore and to protect the shore, be it Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Florida, wherever and if ever it hits land.
Recognize that it is several days out, and I can also say that the Department of Interior and the Coast Guard will be, today, executing an agreement on how they will jointly manage the investigation into what happened here.
Ms. Mitchell: Have you had any private sessions with the president lately? (Laughter.)
Sec. Napolitano: No.
Ms. Mitchell: We know you’re on the list, were on the list for the Supreme Court. He interviewed you last time. Anything to share?
Sec. Napolitano: Not at all. I’ve been a little preoccupied. Between making sure the border is safe and secure, working those issues, and the oil spill, we’ve had a pretty full plate lately.
Ms. Mitchell: Now, you’ve been pretty busy, but you have real- life experience. You’ve had experience as a prosecutor. You’ve been considered before for the Court. It seems to me, you check off every one of the boxes. (Laughter.)
Sec. Napolitano: Flattered to be talked about, but that’s as far as it goes as far I’m concerned.
Ms. Mitchell: And just for the record, for those who’s been speculating about the religious balance on the Court, with right now, it all being people who are either Jewish or Catholic, they have said that the president might want to replace Justice Stevens with a Protestant. And you are?
Sec. Napolitano: Well, actually —
Ms. Mitchell: If I could ask a personal question.
Sec. Napolitano: Yes, I’m a Methodist, actually.
Ms. Mitchell: You are a Methodist.
Sec. Napolitano: So, anyway.
Ms. Mitchell: There you go.
Sec. Napolitano: Be that as it may.
Ms. Mitchell: Thank you very much.
Sec. Napolitano: Thank you for having me.
Ms. Mitchell: Thanks for joining us today.