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Napolitano: Obama's 'bad cop' on immigration

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Sun July 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Napolitano DHS deportation record should worry students at UC
  • He says her boss, Obama, lagged on immigration reform, but not on record deportations
  • He says Napolitano has been "bad cop" to Obama's empty "good cop" rhetoric on immigration
  • He says reform advocates should be concerned over whom Obama taps next for her job

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

(CNN) -- When the University of California regents were looking for a new president for perhaps the best public university system in the world -- with 10 campuses and more than 230,000 students -- they chose Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano?

What? Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio wasn't available?

At UCLA, UC Berkeley, and the other UC campuses, students who are undocumented immigrants -- the so-called DREAM'ers -- should be packing their stuff and seeking sanctuary at the nearest community college. One day, all UC students might need to produce their green cards, birth certificates, or proof of citizenship when they enroll.

Soon there will be a new sheriff in town. One who makes Wyatt Earp look like Andy Taylor.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

It's easy to see why Napolitano might wants this plum assignment -- outgoing president Mark Yudof makes $591,000, triple her salary at DHS. (Yudof's total compensation: $847,149). The real question is why should Californians want her?

After all, this is a state where the population is more than 38% Hispanic. And, in the first three years of the Obama administration, with Napolitano -- a former Arizona governor -- at the helm riding herd over Obama's immigration policy, Hispanics were vocal in expressing their anger with them.

The president was heckled at the National Council of La Raza conference in July 2011 over the failure to honor his campaign promise to make immigration reform a priority, the record number of deportations on his watch, and his refusal to grant deferred status to DREAM'ers.

In Dec 2011, a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Hispanics disapproved of the administration's handling of the immigration issue by a ratio of more than 2 to 1 -- 59% to 27%.

In June 2012, Obama announced an accommodation for DREAM'ers where they could apply for deferred status, get a work permit and avoid deportation for two years.

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But those early years, 2009 to 2011, were terrible, and Napolitano took much of the flak. She is still persona non grata in parts of the Hispanic community.

In a statement last week, Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, a grass-roots organization that goes to bat for immigrants and seeks to give Latinos a voice in politics, was refreshingly direct. Napolitano will, he said, "go into the halls of history as President Barack Obama's go-to person for implementing the most repressive anti-Latino and anti-immigrant policies our nation has ever seen."

Meanwhile, Obama said this: "Since Day One, Janet has led my administration's effort to secure our borders, deploying a historic number of resources, while also taking steps to make our immigration system fairer and more consistent with our values."

At current rates, by the end of 2014 the Obama administration will have deported 2 million people, forced local police departments across the country through the Secure Communities program to enforce federal immigration law in an Arizona-crackdown style, divided hundreds of thousands of families, and -- according to data recently obtained by the Chicago-based National Immigration Justice Center through the Freedom of Information Act -- held hundreds of immigrant minors in adult detention facilities without access to legal counsel, for periods ranging from three days to six months.

Are these the values you're talking about, Mr. President?

Napolitano is a convenient villain for the Left. Yet she merely carried out the president's immigration strategy, which is three parts heavy-handed enforcement to one part feel-good rhetoric about supporting immigration reform with little action to back up the words.

This is the game that Obama and Napolitano have been running. Obama would talk about how he'd like to suspend the deportations; then Napolitano would deliver the reality check and say: "No way, Jose." Obama would address a Latino group and assure them -- falsely it turns out -- that the only people being deported are violent criminals; and Napolitano would brag to Congress about how her department has deported record numbers of people with all sorts of backgrounds and promise to remove more next year.

Obama was the good cop, and Napolitano was the bad cop. Now the bad cop is on her way out, and we're going to see how "good" the good cop really is.

Now that Napolitano is headed to California, many of us are holding our breath. Who knows what is coming our way?

Meanwhile, immigration reform advocates should hold their applause. Her boss is still in Washington, and he is still in charge of an immigration policy that has, for the last four and a half years, wreaked havoc on countless lives. Regardless of who replaces Napolitano, expect more of the same.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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