November 20, 2008
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has become a household name in the Rio Grande Valley during the last two years, a result of his prominent role in the implementation of border security policies in South Texas.
It's no wonder, then, that Valley leaders and activists are paying close attention to the appointment of Chertoff's replacement, a position that now looks to be filled by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
As the governor of a border state and an occasional critic of the border fence, Napolitano has already made a favorable impression on the critics of her predecessor.
"Following Secretary Chertoff's tenure, anyone that President Obama selects will be an improvement," said Scott Nicol of the No Border Wall Coalition. "Hopefully Governor Napolitano's experience in Arizona has shown her that the border wall is a complete disaster."
Since its inception in 2001, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has quickly become the most visible Cabinet department on the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. Border Patrol, Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are all under the helm of DHS.
Napolitano's gubernatorial experience in Arizona will serve her well on border issues, many local leaders say, but there are still questions about how she'll approach issues specific to South Texas.
"She might be sensitive to the needs of the border, but it's a different situation here," said Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos. "In Arizona, they've got a chalk line for a border. We've got a river."
With 17 miles of border fencing still to be built in Cameron County, Napolitano's stance on the barrier could be tested early in her tenure. Though she's unlikely to unilaterally halt the fence's construction, border residents hope she will stress the department's willingness to consult with affected landowners and political entities.
"We would expect the next secretary of Homeland Security to sit down and consult with us in good faith," said Julie Hillrichs, spokeswoman for the Texas Border Coalition. "It would be a welcome change from the current administration."