DHS Secretary Napolitano criticizes immigration ‘border trigger’ proposal

Rachel Rose Hartman

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday rejected a "border trigger" provision many Republican lawmakers say must be included in immigration reform legislation.

The proposal, which would require that that the U.S. border with Mexico be declared secure before illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. could apply for citizenship, has sparked significant concern among progressives and union leaders. And Napolitano, a Democrat and former Arizona governor, revealed Tuesday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast roundtable in Washington that she also believes it shouldn't be put into practice.

"Once people really look at the whole system and how it works, relying on one thing as a so-called trigger is not the way to go," Napolitano said, adding that multiple factors must be taken into account to determine the border's status. She added that there "needs to be certainty" in an immigration reform bill for families already in the United States.

A bipartisan group group of senators known as the "Gang of 8"are currently working on immigration reform legislation in Congress and proposed border security requirements as part of their deal.

One member of that group, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and fellow Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, have been championing a specific trigger for measuring security and have found support for their idea among congressional conservatives who support immigration reform.

Members of Congress have been in communication with Napolitano personally and with her department.

But Napolitano on Tuesday refused to offer reporters any additional details on her communications with the Senate group.

She did reveal her belief that times have changed.

Napolitano noted that four years ago when she took the helm of the department, there was little appetite for immigration reform among members of Congress while two wars were being waged.

And last year, the 2012 election helped pushed things forward, she said.

"I think now is the time ... I think the election had consequences in that regard."

When asked to rate the Senate group's odds of success, Napolitano offered a nonspecific answer.

"I'm always optimistic," she said.

Napolitano said that today, 10 years after the creation of Department of Homeland Security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the U.S./Mexico border is more secure than ever before.

Napolitano mentioned a range of issues that fall under her department in addition to immigration, including the Secret Service, customs and border protection and, largely, terrorism.

Napolitano defended the recent decision by the Transportation Security Administration to permit pocketknives on airplanes, something originally outlawed after the 9/11 attacks. Members of Congress and other critics expressed outrage over the decision to make an exception for pocketknives, a decision set to take effect April 25.

But Napolitano on Tuesday said the move was appropriate.

"I think, frankly, it's the right decision," she said. "From a security standpoint, we're trying to prevent a bomb from getting on a plane, and if you're talking about a small knife, there are already things on a plane that somebody could convert into a small, sharp object."

She mentioned that what keeps her awake at night are unseen threats.

It's "not what I know about, 'cause what I know about, we can do something about," Napolitano said. "It's what's out there that I don't know about."

What she doesn't lie awake at night thinking about is the 2016 election.

“I think my plate is so full right now that I think that contemplation would be the kind of thing that would keep me up at night,” Napolitano said, brushing off a question about her presidential aspirations. “And I lose enough sleep as it is.”

Combating terrorism and defending against attacks is a daily mission of the department, Napolitano said, adding that her department is aiming to hire "600 hackers for good," who will be focused on cyber threats.

Napolitano said she spends a lot of her time working on relations with the private sector with regard to cyber security.

But oddly enough, that doesn't mean she's personally up on the latest cyber technology.

Napolitano explained Tuesday that she does not use email. At all.

And she hasn't used email since she served as Arizona's attorney general around the year 2000.

"I think email sucks up time," she said, lamenting the hundreds of emails she found herself forced to "scroll through" daily and the way in which people used email as a replacement for making contact.

"I haven't found it to be a problem," she added. Napolitano said people who need to reach her are able to do so through her staff (who she mentioned use email for her) and via phone.

Oh, and she doesn't tweet or text either.

It "allows me to focus" on what's important, she said.