Four Ways Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Shaped U.S. Immigration Policy

Janet Napolitano is expected to resign from her post as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Friday, which she has held since 2009. Napolitano will leave the DHS in September to become the first female president of the University of California system.

During her tenure as head of Homeland Security, Napolitano was instrumental in shaping the Obama administration’s at times contradictory immigration policies. Liberals and conservatives alike have criticized Napolitano, who advocated for immigration reform even as she aggressively stepped up deportations. Below, a look at her most controversial moves:

Deported record numbers of immigrants. Napolitano set new records every year in deportations of undocumented immigrants. The department boasted more than 779,000 deportations in 2009 and 2010, a 10 percent increase from 2008. In fiscal year 2012, immigration agents topped their own record, deporting more than 400,000 undocumented immigrants.

Prioritized criminal deportations. Napolitano ordered immigration agents to focus resources on deporting immigrants with criminal convictions. But the majority of people deported in 2012 were convicted of non-violent, minor crimes like drug possession and DUI charges. In 2011, 69 percent of all deportees were non-criminal or very low-level offenders, while just 19 percent of deportees had committed serious crimes, such as murder, rape or kidnapping. Nearly 40 percent of “criminal” deportees who have been picked up in local jails were charged with the lowest level crimes, such as driving violations. Napolitano has also acknowledged that this policy still separates families; 204,810 parents were deported between 2010 and 2012 for mainly minor criminal offenses, leaving their American children to fend for themselves. Parents of American children make up roughly 23 percent of all deportations.


Supported legal status for DREAMers. Napolitano was a strong advocate of the DREAM Act, which would have granted temporary legal status to undocumented youths who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. When President Obama signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order, Napolitano clashed with her own immigration agents to ensure that these 365,237 young people would be protected.

Reformed detention centers. In 2009, Napolitano rolled out a series of reforms intended to make immigrant detention centers more humane and less costly. These included alternative confinement or house arrest for immigrants who do not pose a safety or flight risk, and the separation of potentially violent immigrants who had criminal records from people seeking asylum. After a New York Times investigation discovered this year that many non-violent immigrants are held in solitary confinement, Napolitano launched a review. So far, no action to address the practice has been announced.