Feathered Bastard

Yet Another Reason Janet Napolitano Should Be Blocked: The Chandler Roundup

What will it take before the pro-immigrant crowd starts a real campaign to stop this woman?

Hispanic leaders in Arizona and elsewhere need to start raising hell over the nomination of border hawk Janet Napolitano to be Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security. And I don't just mean giving the occasional quote to the media criticizing Nappy. I mean a full-court press to block her nomination, and prevent her from becoming the next Homeland Security chief.

Many of the reasons why they should do this are laid out in Village Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey's recent cover story on the Napolitano. But there's another reason Nappy needs to be axed from her appointment: Her reaction to the infamous 1997 Chandler Roundup, where hundreds of undocumented were corralled by local cops and the Border Patrol, and where the rights of many legal Hispanic residents and American citizens were violated.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune and former reporter for the Arizona Republic, went over this ground recently in a fierce opinion piece, "Recalling Napolitano's immigration `no-show.'" In it, he lambastes Nappy for shamefully dodging her responsibilities as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona in the wake of the Chandler Roundup.

"There were maybe a dozen activists, elected officials and media figures taking arrows from pro-roundup nativists," writes Navarrette in his editorial, "while Napolitano, then the U.S. attorney with jurisdiction over the Border Patrol and already a candidate for state attorney general, hid under her desk."

Continues Navarrette, "The most she was willing to do was to say her office had made a referral to the Justice Department."

Nappy's shameful punk-out on an incident that enraged civil liberties organizations and other activists groups is doubly despicable when you recall that Napolitano is a nominal Democrat, and that she had been appointed to her U.S. Attorney post by President Bill Clinton. As a federal official, she had the leverage and the authority to act, but instead sat on her hands. For those concerned about how she will approach the issue of immigration as the new Homeland Security honcho, consider her reaction to the Chandler dragnet to be a preview of her tenure in the Obama administration.

In his piece, Navarrette explains just how grotesque of a constitutional violation the Chandler Roundup was, further damning Nappy's cowardly response.

"But because the law- enforcement net was cast wide enough to ensnare anyone who looked like an illegal immigrant," explains Navarrette, "i.e., brown skin; Spanish accents; or even, as one Chandler police officer told stunned state investigators looking into the incident, a `smell' common to the undocumented - scores of U.S.-born Hispanics were systematically harassed, detained and asked to produce birth certificates or citizenship papers."

If Napolitano failed to act as a federal prosecutor in such an extreme situation, then why should the pro-immigrant rights crowd have any hope that she will rein in ICE, or go after Sheriff Joe Arpaio's 287(g) authority?

Navarrette rightly pegs Nappy as "a lawyer with one client: herself." Our Governor is only concerned with her own advancement, and with being able to come back to Arizona after her stint in Michael Chertoff's shoes to run for U.S. Senate. The Sheriff's Office and ICE could be pulling Hispanics out of their cars by their hair, and she will do nothing, or next to nothing, to stop it.

However, I fear the pro-immigrant-rights crowd is too beholden to the Democrats to speak out as forcefully as it needs to in order to stop Nappy's rise. After all, how will its members snag jobs in the Obama administration, or any of the sweet federal gravy that might be coming down the pike if they buck the Democratic establishment?

In other words, it's easy to protest Arpaio, but it takes some real nads to go after the woman who has empowered him and will likely continue to write him blank checks on the backs of the undocumented.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons