Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano was the featured speaker in a Jackson Institute Town Hall Meeting on October 6.
Napolitano began by placing the responsibilities of her department within a broader framework, explaining that there are areas where defending the homeland intersects with concerns mostly in the purview of the State Department or Department of Defense, such as tracking suspicious individuals who want to enter the country, and in cyber-security. “Cyber-security, as you know, respects no national boundaries. It is really a free-for-all in cyberspace, and that means attacks could come from anywhere in the world and cause massive damage, not only to the government but to the private sector,” she said. “I believe we are just at the beginning of understanding what needs to be done in the nonmilitary environment.”
She said national security and homeland security “are intrinsically blended. Sometimes it’s worked out on a situational basis; it’s not easy to draw bright lines and organizational charts that anticipate every eventuality.”
She said another big question is, “Where does homeland security end and privacy begin?” She said the department must balance programs, policies and initiatives in a “calculated, intentional way” to protect civil liberties.
Napolitano concluded, tongue-in-cheek, “These are all extremely easy areas; there are very clear answers; there’s always a right and a wrong. And if you believe that, you probably shouldn’t be the Secretary of Homeland Security.”
Of more than a dozen questions posed by undergrads and law students, almost all dealt with either immigration or cyber-security. One asked Napolitano what she thinks would be the “ideal solution to the immigration issue” and referenced Arizona’s 2010 immigration law, parts of which are being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department as taking over what is constitutionally a federal responsibility. She supports the DOJ suit, but added, “It’s understandable that states have acted, because Congress hasn’t acted. Current immigration law doesn’t match our nation’s needs and doesn’t take into account different circumstances that immigrants have. It’s too hard to become a legal immigrant. We have too many restrictions; we don’t have enough visas for students or certain types of workers. We have a waiting list that’s years and years long.” She said the solution is for Congress to reform immigration law, but doesn’t expect that to happen any time soon, given the difficulties of passing legislation in the highly partisan House and Senate.
Another immigration question was about the Secure Communities program, which promotes greater cooperation between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (part of DHS) and local law enforcement to arrest and deport undocumented persons in the U.S. While the focus is supposed to be on “the worst of the worst” criminal offenders, many with low-level, non-violent offenses have been swept up as well. Napolitano defended the program as a cooperative effort between DHS and the FBI. She called it “the solution to a big problem. Before, there was no connection between two departments” that both had jurisdiction “based on the rule of law. It lets us act like prosecutors and set priorities and find people who are violating laws in addition to immigration laws.”
One student framed his question about cyber-security, “You mentioned the need to protect infrastructure. However, given the fact that a lot of the nation’s infrastructure is owned and run by private companies, how would the Department work with these private companies to provide security before the attack without infringing on, say, freedom of trade?”
Napolitano said both the Senate and the House have cyber bills relating to this issue, and different proposals are being discussed. “Should private companies be mandated by law to do certain things? Should they be incentivized somehow to do certain things? Or should we just leave it to the market?” She said the Senate bill favors incentives, while the House favors the free market. She said she favors incentives. “You start there, before you go to a mandate, and see what happens. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think the market is a sufficient protector.”