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The Napolitano Files

The opportunistic immigration record of the new UC president.



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Responses like these appear to have irritated Napolitano. This week, she told The New York Times that she hoped the protesters would "evolve."

KQED's Scott Shafer asked Napolitano last year whether or not students upset about her deportation policies have a point. She answered: "I think so. The plain fact of the matter is that I was, as the secretary of Homeland Security, the chief enforcement officer for the nation's immigration law. We were moving and doing things we could administratively to make that law more fair. I created, for example, the Deferred Action program [DACA] so that young people could register, and be allowed to stay in the country, and get work authorization."

Leaving aside Napolitano's disputed claim that she "created" DACA, the reality is that, throughout her career, she did not do all she could administratively. She could have championed the much broader administrative alternatives proposed by her staff — including the issuance of orders to stop workplace raids, defer the deportation of all low-priority individuals, and provide legal work permits to these individuals. This would have prevented thousands of traumatic family separations and advanced the very goals she claimed to support.

UC Spokesperson Montiel has repeatedly emphasized that "President Napolitano's fiercest critics across the country continue to be those who oppose giving documented students the same opportunities as other students." And while it's true that Napolitano is no Joe Arpaio or Russell Pearce, she enabled them. In Arizona, she led a half-hearted investigation of Arpaio's abuses and then helped him gain federal authority to terrorize migrant communities through the 287(g) program.

Kroloff, who worked for Napolitano in Arizona and Washington, DC, describes her immigration record as one of proactive advocacy. A "hallmark" of her career, he said, "has been her unwavering, undying, and vigorous advocacy for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform." But her record shows that her advocacy has been mostly through words, not deeds, and she certainly has not advanced a progressive immigration agenda. Her viewpoints, which have ebbed and flowed with the political tide, also are not terribly unique: even most Republican governors and Congressmen have called for some form of comprehensive immigration reform and expressed sympathy for Dreamers.

Ironically, Napolitano now finds herself in a state whose politicians have exercised pioneering progressive leadership on immigration. In October, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Trust Act, proclaiming that California will not fully comply with Secure Communities. Undocumented immigrants now must be charged with or convicted of a serious offense to be eligible for 48-hour detention and transfer to ICE; those who committed minor infractions will be released. In a surprising reversal, Napolitano has expressed support for the Trust Act. This represents a repudiation of policies she endorsed in the past, as well as a repudiation of ICE's own lobbying efforts to undermine the Trust Act's passage.

Back in Napolitano's home state of Arizona, her legacy of inaction continues to be strongly felt. One of the latest victims is Noemi Romero, a 21-year-old from Phoenix, who came to the United States at age three and graduated from a US high school. Unfortunately, Romero lives in Maricopa County, where Arpaio has been emboldened further by increasingly xenophobic Arizona laws. While few, if any, businesses have faced consequences as a result of the 2007 employer sanctions bill that Napolitano signed, the law incentivized employers to require that their employees provide documentation of legal immigration status; this then allowed Arpaio to catch employees who used false names to get a job. In the absence of explicit orders from DHS prohibiting workplace raids and offering work permits to broader categories of undocumented immigrants, Arpaio's discretion holds sway.

Last year, Romero was elated upon learning that she qualified for DACA, so she got a job as a grocery store cashier to earn the $465 DACA application fee. In January, Arpaio and his posse cleared out all of the grocery store customers and started questioning the workers one-by-one. They demanded to see each employee's legal ID. Romero didn't have one. Searching her purse, the police found a checkbook with the name of a legal resident — the same false name she had used on her job application.

While Arpaio strutted out of the store to give media interviews, Romero was getting handcuffed. A call came in from her mom, but the police officer ripped out her phone battery and forbade her from answering. She spent the next three months in detention — two of them in Arpaio's notorious jail. There she shared a room with more than one hundred women, ate food that she suspected was "rotten," and was permitted to wear only one pair of Arpaio's pink underwear each week. "The hardest part was not being able to see my family," Romero told me. "And the guards treat you as if you are nothing."

Romero did not know until later that the activist group Puente had launched an online campaign about her case and staged a demonstration outside Arizona ICE headquarters. Ultimately, they succeeded in getting her deportation deferred — for now. However, Romero's felony conviction for "criminal impersonation" makes her ineligible for DACA, and thus ineligible for a legal work permit.

Seven months after her release, Romero is still sitting at home, waiting and hoping for her situation to change. She volunteers for Puente, and she worked on a campaign during the holidays to draw attention to the plight of immigrant families separated by detention or deportation. If she could, she would study cosmetology or nursing. But her family cannot afford college tuition, and every potential job she finds requires a work eligibility check. "It's hard," she said, fighting tears. "My friends are getting into school, getting jobs, moving out, and starting lives of their own.

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