Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urged Senate rejection of an amendment to delay pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants until the U.S. has “full operational control” of its border, saying in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the proposal is “the wrong way to go” in a bill to revise immigration law.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who joins us from New York. Madam Secretary, thank you for joining us. And let me start with the immigration bill as it currently stands before the United States Senate. Could you quantify what difference it would make, if any, on border security?
JANET NAPOLITANO: It’s a - it’s a great border security bill. And I say that as a former attorney general and governor of Arizona, a key border state. But it maintains the record amount of manpower we have at the border, the so-called boots on the ground. It gives us a lot more technology, which is a real force multiplier. The ability to have aerial coverage across the entire Southwest border. Also allows for a fund for fencing where we need to either have new fencing or double fencing. So from a border security standpoint, it’s a very, very good bill.
More importantly, you really have to look at what are the drivers of illegal migration across our southwest border. And one of the key ones is of course the desire for work, people coming up to find a living in the United States. It deals with that driver by requiring employers to verify the legal presence of anyone applying for work so we begin to shut off that driver of illegal migration.
HUNT: Let me ask you --
NAPOLITANO: The other key driver is the fact that it’s so hard to get a visa, and it really reforms the visa system.
HUNT: Let me - let me just stay on the border security for a second. Senator Cornyn of Texas, as you know, has an amendment that’s supposed to be voted on next week. He says the government has operating control really of only about 45 percent of the border, and his amendment would specify that citizenship - a pathway to citizenship is only possible after a hard target of 90 percent operational control is achieved. Is that feasible, and how long would it take?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I don’t think that’s the best way to do anything at the border. First of all, these are terms of art. And we have - parts of the border are heavily trafficked and we have a lot more resources there. Some parts of the border are very sparsely populated, hardly ever trafficked. We don’t need the same amount of technology and manpower there. At a certain point, we don’t need more buckets at the border. If you think of it as a ship, we need to fix the ultimate ship. And so disconnecting the border from everything else that’s immigration related is really the wrong way to go.
HUNT: So the Cornyn - the current Senate bill would be preferable to the Cornyn amendment?
NAPOLITANO: Yes. Yes. And the - the path to earn citizenship in the - in the bill that’s a bipartisan bill that passed committee in a bipartisan fashion, the path to earn citizenship is very vigorous in that bill. There are fines that must be paid, fees that must be paid. There’s a significant number of years that must be waited. For many people, it could be as long as 13 years before you could ultimately become a citizen.
But the good part of the bill is it allows people who are in the country illegally now to report. So we capture their biometrics. We capture their identities. We can run their criminal record checks. They have to pay a fine. They have to pay a fee. But we bring this whole group of people out of the shadows, and that has a lot of benefits for everyone.
HUNT: Let me ask you one question, Madam Secretary, about drones. They’re used, some now. You’d like to use them more extensively. Critics like Pat Leahy say he has - I’m talking about drones for border patrol - says he has real concerns. It raises questions regarding privacy, the fourth amendment. How do you - how do you answer Senator Leahy on those concerns?
NAPOLITANO: Well, we - we do use drones at the border, and we use other kinds of air coverage as well. That makes our - our forces on the ground ever more effective because they can tip from the air to the ground. We also have a privacy office embedded in the Department of Homeland Security. So we are constantly making sure that we are abiding by restrictions and doing what we need to do from a border security perspective without invading American’s rights.
HUNT: Ideally, how many more drones would you like to patrol that border?
NAPOLITANO: I wouldn’t give you a firm number on that now, but I would tell you that there are certain sectors where having more drones would be useful. Other sectors, because of the topography and the underbrush and so forth, we - we need other kinds of air coverage. So it’s going to be a combination of things.
HUNT: You knew about these recent revelations of widespread surveillance of phone data and emails. You’ve talked about how closely interlinked the NSA, FBI and DHS are. Did you worry at all that some of this might be too intrusive, too invasive?
NAPOLITANO: Well, we - in terms of how we use that data or data for security purposes, we have - as I said, Al, we have not only a privacy office embedded within DHS, and these are people who spend their professional lives on the law of privacy and how that needs to work, but also a civil liberties office that looks internally at us all the time in terms of making sure that we are getting that right balance between privacy and security. And those decisions we confront every day, but I would want the audience to know that there are lots of protections built in there for Americans on how data is not only collected, but under what restrictions it could be ever be used.
HUNT: Are there specific examples of these techniques stopping a terrorist from entering the United States or deporting a threat?
NAPOLITANO: Well, we run data all the - we - we use that data to identify individuals who have potential connections to terrorism or other serious crimes for which there are, for example, INTERPOL warrants out. And we use that data to help us identify those passengers before they even board a plane for the United States. And I could give you some overall numbers, but it’s not a small number.
HUNT: It’s not a small number. And this particular surveillance, we’re talking about Prism and the Verizon phones, were responsible for some of those successes?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I’m talking about other kinds of data. I don’t want to talk about the - the particular Verizon data that’s exciting so much public attention right now because that and in and of itself is under investigation. What I do want to talk about is the - the kind of data that we have that allows us, for example, to protect to the greatest extent we can people who are flying either internationally or domestically.
HUNT: Madam Secretary, you are aware of the sensitivity here. Let me just ask you this. Candidate Obama promised to be the most transparent president in the history of America. He welcomes this debate. But it’s hard to have a debate if the public doesn’t know the facts. Would it be a good idea, as a number of senators have advocated, to make the rulings or at least the rationale of this secret court public, to let the public know to reassure voters?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think a lot of people don’t understand that there is a court that reviews applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA. And in the course of that review, there are a lot of changes made to FISA requests before the court will ultimately approve them. So not only do you have restrictions within agencies, not only do you have constantly looking at what the right balance is, but where FISA is concerned, you ultimately have a federal court that’s looking at it as well.
HUNT: Should we make that public, those - those rulings and that rationale?
NAPOLITANO: I think on some of them that discussion needs to be had, yes.
HUNT: So maybe in some. Okay. One final question.
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think - I think there needs to be public understanding and - and a public dialogue about what kind of information we use, why it’s necessary to protect Americans and how we make sure that Americans don’t - don’t live in an Orwellian situation, which I think is everybody’s fear. And that’s not the case. There are lots of protections built in. There’s a privacy act, a federal statute that we abide by. So there are lots of things already built in. But again, because of current events, I think that dialogue needs to be held.
HUNT: Has the Edward Snowden case caused you to reevaluate, to look at your experience with contractors, I think you have about $12 billion worth of contractors, and the access they have to - to - to classified information?
NAPOLITANO: Yes. It certainly raised my eyebrow. And the issue is that you have individuals who are system administrators, for example, who have really unfettered access to certain types of information. And I’m not sure that we’ve really addressed that fairly and squarely. So obviously there will be lots of lessons learned out of this latest episode.
HUNT: Okay. Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining us.
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