Janet Napolitano's Dilemma: Lawmakers Poised to Give Arpaio His Immigration Money Back, But She Holds Federal Power Card

Former Governor Janet Napolitano fled the state the second she got a better offer, leaving it in the hands of the Republicans she typically opposed.

Now the legislature is offering her a symbolic middle finger, not only slashing some of her pet programs, but also reportedly "poised" to slam back into the state budget the $1.6 million she took away from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's anti-illegal-immigrant operations -- and at a time when they're cutting most everything else. This blog was the first to report the story of the cuts back in May.

Arpaio and some conservative lawmakers were furious at the move. Though Napolitano had a cover story -- that the switch in funding was merely to boost a state fugitive apprehension program -- her spokeswoman, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, stated at the time that the decision to cut the funds was at least partly based on Arpaio's controversial used of the money.

Now Napolitano has flown the coup, and lawmakers are making full use of her absence.

But the former guv is now the secretary of Homeland Security, in charge of the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau. Observers of Napolitano's record on immigration suggest she'll sit by and do nothing as her political enemies run roughshod over the state she abandoned.

Even if Napolitano stripped Arpaio's patrol deputies of their coveted 287(g) status, which gives them the powers of immigration agents, the sheriff will still be able to target illegal immigrants under the state's human smuggling or employer sanctions laws. (The 287(g) program in the county jail, which allows for quick removal from the country of illegal immigrants, definitely isn't going anywhere). 

Losing the 287(g) for the deputies would take away some of Arpaio's options in his fight against illegal immigrants -- and it's one way Napolitano could strike back against the powers that have stained the good fortune bestowed upon her by Barack Obama.

One thing seems clear -- so far as chief of Homeland Security, Napolitano has made no move to curb anything Arpaio is doing with his federal powers.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.