Napolitano wants more immigration action

Getty Images

President Obama should take additional steps on immigration if Congress refuses to take action, former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Napolitano backs new executive actions by Obama that go beyond the deferred action program she oversaw.

That program, which allowed certain immigrants who entered the country illegally to remain in the United States, is “a good petri dish” for future administrative steps, she said.

“If Congress refuses to act and perform its duties, then I think it’s appropriate for the executive to step in and use his authorities based on law ... to take action in the immigration arena,’’ Napolitano said during an interview with the newspaper.

The administration has said Obama will take actions on immigration after the election. Senate Democrats asked that he wait until after the Nov. 4 midterms, as they believed the steps could hurt them on the campaign trail.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has conducted an extensive review of possible executive branch measures. 

Napolitano, now president of the University of California system, told the Post that the administration need look no further than the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for a model.

DACA provides “a good petri dish on how you set it up, the budget stuff, all of those nuts and bolts,’’ she said.

The program, announced by Napolitano in an agency memo, has halted deportation proceedings for hundreds of thousands of younger illegal immigrants brought to the United States when they were children.

The action roiled conservatives, who accused the president of executive overreach, and left unsatisfied immigration advocacy groups who have urged him to go further to address the millions of illegal immigrants now living in the country.

Napolitano, who is scheduled to give a speech on the subject Monday at the University of Georgia law school, recalled pushing for more ambitious action two years ago.

“I said that this was neither big enough nor bold enough,’’ Napolitano recalls in a portion of the speech obtained by the Post.