Skip to main content

At Sanford, Napolitano Discusses Security Challenges

Homeland security chief says department is adapting to changing nature of terrorist threat

Janet Napolitano discusses national security and immigration with David Schanzer, middle, and Noah Pickus Thursday night.  Photo by Les Todd
Janet Napolitano discusses national security and immigration with David Schanzer, middle, and Noah Pickus Thursday night. Photo by Les Todd

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told an overflow crowd
Thursday at the Sanford School of Public Policy that the country's immigration law
is badly in need of reform to deal with the 10 million illegal immigrants now
in the country.

Nevertheless, absent needed reforms, she said her
responsibility is to enforce the rule of law.

Napolitano's department deports more than 400,000 illegal
immigrants a year and prioritizes those who have committed crimes, who are on
terrorism watch lists or who are repeat violators. "I have never seen the
borders more secure," because of increased manpower and enforcement on the
borders with Mexico and Canada, she said.

"I am a strong believer in the Dream Act,"
proposed legislation which would provide a quicker path to citizenship for
illegal immigrants brought here as children, she added. The Dream Act has
failed to pass in Congress.

Napolitano gave the Sanford Distinguished Lecture to a crowd
of more than 400 people in the Sanford School's Fleishman Commons. She was
introduced to the audience by U.S. Rep. David
, who called her a "leader who has mastered the art of
translation of policy into action."  

In a conversation with Sanford faculty members David Schanzer,
director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, and Noah Pickus,
director of the Kenan Institute of Ethics, Napolitano discussed the challenges
in leading the third largest department in the federal government whose responsibilities
include terrorism prevention, border security, cybersecurity, immigration, and
disaster preparedness and response.

The department operates in an "evolving threat
environment" and seeks to "maximize our ability to minimize risk,"
she said. The paradigm for terrorism has changed, from a complex conspiracy
created abroad and coming here, to a growing threat from homegrown, "lone
wolf" actors.  She pointed to
the Fort Hood shooting and the bomb planted along a parade route in Spokane,
Wash., as examples of domestic terrorism.

"Homeland security is really hometown security,"
and is a shared responsibility, she said. 

Asked by Schanzer about the balance between freedom and
security, especially for groups that may feel subjected to unwarranted
surveillance, Napolitano mentioned meetings with Muslim leaders to encourage
connections with local law enforcement and with federal offices that advise her
directly on the issues.

"You have to accept that you can never eliminate every
threat," she said when asked how much security is enough. Aviation
continues to be a focus because "there is constant intel about taking out
aircraft."  The department is
making changes to procedures, such as using more random checks at airports and
allowing small children to keep their shoes on.

During a question-and-answer session, an audience member
identified herself as "an undocumented dreamer," while her companion
asked if President Obama would enact Dream Act provisions via executive order.

"The president will not do it through executive fiat. Only
Congress can address this," Napolitano said, but she stressed the
importance of Obama's support for the reform, which until recently had
bipartisan support.

Another audience member, Griselda de los Santos, asked through an
interpreter could be done to help her brother, Javier de los Santos. Despite
not being among those DHS claims to target for deportation, he has been
detained since Sept. 6 after a traffic stop. His wife and three children living
in North Carolina consequently have no income.

Napolitano accepted petitions signed on de los Santos'
behalf and said her department is working to "get more guidance in the
field about the proper use of discretion" in detaining residents for
possible deportation.

Napolitano ended her remarks with an appeal to students to
consider a career in public service. "It's challenging intellectually and
to your stamina, but it's in service to something bigger than yourself,"
she said.

The Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture was endowed by a
gift to the university from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust in honor
of the late Terry Sanford, who served as North Carolina governor, U.S. senator
and as Duke president for 16 years. This event was co-sponsored by the Triangle
Center for Terrorism and Homeland Security and Duke's Program on American Grand