Appearing recently before a Senate committee, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was grilled by a fellow Arizonan, Sen. John McCain.
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee wanted to know if the Obama administration planned to honor his request to deploy 3,000 National Guard troops to the Arizona-Mexico border and whether Napolitano had reviewed the new Arizona statute that enlists state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration law. McCain got the better of the exchange, but that's only because Napolitano missed the chance to knock him off his high horse.
When McCain asked about putting the National Guard on the border, this is what Napolitano should have said: "Senator, as you know, it's tempting for lawmakers -- when dealing with complex subjects such as border security -- to reach for feel-good measures that, while ineffective, make the individuals who propose them believe they're accomplishing something. Putting the National Guard on the border falls into that category.
"While there is no doubt that President George W. Bush did the right thing back in 2006 when he honored my request as governor of Arizona, and the request of other border state governors, to send National Guard troops to the border in a support capacity as part of Operation Jump Start, I seem to recall that at the time you were not wholly convinced that this was the right way to go. In fact, in those days, you referred to the deployment as 'partially PR.' Of course, you weren't running for re-election then. So maybe the prospect of losing the Senate seat you've occupied for almost the last quarter-century has focused your thinking on the matter. But for those of us who aren't locked in competitive re-election campaigns, you'll have to excuse us if we prefer to take our time weighing the costs and benefits of sending the National Guard to the border. We ask that you be patient, senator, as we give this matter the attention and study it deserves.
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"In the meantime, we at Homeland Security are quite confident in the ability of the Border Patrol -- which is now the largest law enforcement agency in the federal government -- to protect the border. There always will be illegal border crossings as long you have willing employers in this country, but we are fully engaged in the mission to secure our nation's borders."
And when McCain grilled Napolitano about the Arizona law, which she acknowledged she had not reviewed "in detail," here's what she should have said: "Senator, between dealing with oil spills and plots to detonate car bombs in Times Square, I've been remiss. I will read the law. But I'll read both versions. Let's remember that the first version of this bill -- the one passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor (Jan) Brewer -- was defective and had to be amended a week later. Senator, you supported that initial version that would have led to racial profiling. Now you say those concerns have been addressed. But weren't you among those who assured us that there was nothing wrong with the first bill? You were wrong then. How do we know you're right now?
"Moreover, as I alluded to earlier, the main reason Arizona has so many illegal immigrants is not because the federal government has fallen down on the job. The reason our beloved state is home to an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants is because our friends, relatives, associates and constituents back home are addicted to cheap and dependable labor provided by illegal immigrants who do jobs Americans won't do. You know this, senator, better than most people.
"Remember when you confronted angry unemployed union members who insisted that illegal immigrants were taking their jobs, and you called them on it. You even offered them jobs picking lettuce in Yuma for $50 per hour on the condition they stay the whole season. You didn't get too many takers, did you?
"The point is, as Arizonans, you and I both know that this isn't an invasion but a self-inflicted wound. We have illegal immigrants because we hire illegal immigrants. And any politician who doesn't make this point as often as he can isn't offering straight talk."
Because of where she's been and where she is now, Napolitano is uniquely qualified to explain to the country that the situation in Arizona isn't as simple as some people make it out to be. Let's hear it.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE