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In a New Book Janet Napolitano Assesses U.S. National Security and the Changing Role of DHS

University of California

Former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was in her second term when she was asked to join the incoming Obama administration as Homeland Security Secretary. She led the agency for nearly five years, and now she’s written a book about her experiences. It’s her own report card of sorts about the current state of U.S. national security and the more border-focused role of DHS under the Trump administration. Napolitano is on a book tour and will make a stop tonight in Flagstaff. She spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius. 

Ryan Heinsius: The title of your new book is “How Safe Are We?” So, how safe are we?

Janet Napolitano: So, in some areas we certainly are safer than before the attacks of 9/11. But in some other areas we’re not as safe as we could or should be, and I suggest three areas where that is so. One is all of the security impacts related to climate change. A second is cyber and cyber security. And a third is the risks associated with mass gun violence. Those are three areas where we need to be paying much greater attention.

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RH: The Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration is often associated with immigration enforcement and the family separation policy that’s been so widely publicized. In your opinion, has the agency been politicized?

JN: Yeah, I think it indeed has and the Trump administration, it’s almost as if the Department of Homeland Security’s only role is on, not only just immigration but the southwest border. And while that’s one of the important responsibilities of the department, its overall range of responsibilities is so much greater. I would not rank the southwest border among the top security threats of the United States.

RH: In your book you call the administration’s family separation policy “government malpractice.” Maybe you can explain that.

JN: First of all it was the wrong policy to begin with and unnecessary. To do that and not have a mechanism in place so that children could be reunited with the adults they were traveling with—with their parents—that is not only malpractice, it’s just inconsistent with our values.

RH: Were there any conditions or things present during the time when you were Homeland Security secretary that you think may have inadvertently laid the groundwork for what we see now, especially the situation with the southern U.S. border?

JN: I wish we had during the Obama administration been able to achieve immigration reform. It just got stuck in the Congress. This is kind of a third rail in the Congress, anything related to immigration. That’s one of the reasons why we created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA. The lack of an overall, comprehensive immigration reform left that issue wide open for candidate Trump to really play on immigration as a major theme of his campaign, and as we’ve seen he’s now carried on to be a major theme of his presidency.

RH: In the book you write really fondly of your time serving as Arizona governor. What was your favorite part of the job?

JN: Oh, first of all, I love Arizona, and I just think it’s a terrific place. I loved working on issues that affected Arizonans. We did a lot in the education space. We pushed through all-day kindergarten, and really just tried to set a new, I think kind of a pragmatic, progressive tone in state government.


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