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Napolitano Departure in Fall Likely to Add Wrinkle to Immigration Overhaul Efforts

“After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation’s next generation of leaders,” she added.

Napolitano is the longest-serving secretary in the department’s short history. In Washington, she has emphasized her connection to the Southwest and border security, and became one of the Obama administration’s leading advocates for a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system.

In numerous speeches and testimonies before Congress, she has highlighted the buildup of the Border Patrol and its supporting agencies over the past decade, calling the Southwest border the most secure it has ever been.

That assertion has been one of the most contentious issues between the administration and Republican lawmakers, particularly during immigration overhaul discussions. While Napolitano and other officials have pointed to declining apprehensions in the Southwest and other signs that fewer people are trying to cross, GOP members — particularly those from Southwest states — have called the administration’s claims untrue, and continued to do so Friday.

“The border is not secure, and the threat of terrorism is not diminishing,” House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement on Napolitano’s departure. “The vision and actions of the Department must reflect that reality.”

McCaul called for the administration to appoint a replacement “who does not underestimate the threats against us, and who is committed to enforcing the law and creating a unified Department. Ten years after the creation of the Department, it is critical that its mission isn’t undermined by politics or political correctness.” While he noted that he disagreed with Napolitano on the border and other issues, he said he respected her for her service.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also sounded a respectful note. “Janet Napolitano has served our nation with honor over the last four years as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security — one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in Washington,” he said.

“We have had our share of disagreements during her time as Secretary, but I have never doubted her integrity, work ethic or commitment to our nation’s security. The people of Arizona can be very proud of our former Governor’s service, and I wish her all the best as she assumes leadership of the nation’s largest public university system,” he added.

Although Napolitano has not always seen-eye-to-eye with Capitol Hill Democrats — several have expressed reservations about the nationwide expansion of Secure Communities, a program that allows federal officials to match fingerprints taken during local police bookings with those on file in immigration databases — she has generally had a more cordial relationship with them.

Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, called her a “steady hand helping lead the 240,000 men and women who serve in the Department through natural disasters and a diverse matrix of threats,” and said she deserves credit for helping to unify the 10-year old department, which was largely cobbled together out of 22 existing agencies.

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