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Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona, is expected to be named US secretary of Homeland Security by the Obama administration.
Napolitano has long complained about federal immigration law and last year implemented the country's most severe penalty for employers, whereby their business licenses are revoked for a second offence of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
Her tough stance, which she termed 'the business death penalty' was the 'most aggressive action in the country' and was designed to stem the flow of illegal workers. 'The states will take the lead, and Arizona will take the lead among the states,' she said, directing criticism at Congress and the federal government for their failure to bring about immigration reform.
But although Napolitano has gained a reputation as a tough enforcer, also being the first Arizona state governor to ask the National Guard to protect its 600 km border with Mexico, she has shown sensitivity to other immigration issues in this politically complex state and has opposed most measures that would seek to punish illegal immigrants who were already living and working there.
She vetoed several bills including one that would have required the police to arrest people in the state illegally and another, in 2005, that would have seen an end to, in-state tuition aid to students in the country illegally. "This bill goes too far by punishing even longtime residents of this state who were brought here as small children by their parents," she said, defending her position, which went against popular feeling.
Nonetheless, she is 2 years into her second term of office in a Republican dominated state and her approval rating is well over 70%.
'She has attempted to take a middle ground, and her view is it has calmed the debate in Arizona,' said John Trasvina, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Los Angeles.
Whilst Napolitano has stopped short of giving her support to the border fence currently under construction, she has been an advocate of various measures aimed at controlling immigration, saying that 'Our current immigration system is broken. It is too easy for the 'bad guys' to enter our country and too difficult for the 'good guys', whose energies and intellects we need, to obtain lawful status.'
She has called for a streamlined visa process, 'tamper-proof immigration documents' and an improved national employer verification system that would make use of Social Security data. 'We have the technology; now we need to put it to work . . . so employers can perform real-time verification.' 'Employers who hire illegal immigrants, and know it, should be held accountable and penalized.'
She has also proposed a 'temporary worker program with no amnesty' that would help employers fill the need for workers. 'Foreign labour should not be a substitute for U.S. workers, but it is critical that we bring foreign workers out of the shadows, put the clamps on the underground labour market and bring greater stability to our workforce.'
But, for Janet Napolitano, the term 'temporary worker' means just that. 'I reject the term 'guest' worker,' she said. 'To me, this implies someone coming here to take a vacation. These people are coming to work.'