Tim Steller

Tim Steller, reporter at the Arizona Daily Star.


Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to Nogales, Ariz., Tuesday to show off border security to a key U.S. senator from Delaware.

We know this because on Friday, Napolitano spokesman Matt Chandler said in a press release that she would be visiting, adding in the last sentence: "More details on the trip will be released once they are finalized."

By "finalized," Chandler apparently meant "completed," because the next details of the trip came out Tuesday afternoon - a short summary of the trip when it was over.

Napolitano made no public appearances. She did no interviews.

This has become common practice for the secretary of homeland security, at least here in her home state. She made a similar visit to Nogales in December. No public appearances, no interviews.

It's hard to believe this is the same Napolitano who was a relatively open governor of Arizona in what seems like a different epoch, though it ended just four years ago. As governor, Napolitano held a press conference every Wednesday, an unmatched practice in recent Arizona history.

How things have changed.

Last week I criticized Gov. Jan Brewer for her secrecy in not releasing the names of Southern Arizona ranchers with whom she met to hear about border security. I continue to suspect Brewer skewed the results of her border-security tour by listening to people who would tell her what she wanted to hear.

But by comparison to Napolitano, Brewer was a model of transparency.

After her border tour, Brewer held a brief press conference at Tucson International Airport. She uttered what I consider inanities - "Our border is open," among them - but at least answered a few questions before being whisked off.

Napolitano didn't even make that gesture.

Neither, it appears, did she and Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, the new chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, meet with groups of "stakeholders," a common feature of federal visits to the hinterlands.

Jaime Chamberlain, a produce-warehouse owner in the Nogales area, told me Tuesday he would have loved a chance to speak with Napolitano. His priority - typical of people who actually live at the border or cross it frequently - is having enough staff at the ports of entry to ease congestion and facilitate trade.

"We're not working to our full potential at the border," he said.

But she and Carper didn't meet with Chamberlain or other border people.

"We participated in an aerial tour of the U.S.-Mexico border, visited the Mariposa Port of Entry, and met with the men and women who serve on the front lines to protect our nation's borders," the summary says.

The funny thing is, Napolitano has answered questions recently. On Feb. 4 and 5, in San Diego, then El Paso, she held press conferences taking questions about immigration reform and border security.

Yet this is not only her home state, but the most active corridor for smuggling, and she neglected to answer questions here, again.

More confounding is the fact that she has an argument worth making here.

Four U.S. congressmen from the Phoenix area and Northern Arizona issued an alarmist letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner Tuesday arguing the border should be secured before immigration reform proceeds.

There's nothing wrong with that argument, but to make it they stoop to out-of-touch stereotypes.

"The United States-Mexico border, especially along the southern border of Arizona, has been host to frequent and extreme violence," wrote Republican U.S. Reps. Matt Salmon, Trent Franks, Paul Gosar and David Schweikert. They add, "In the past few years, violence on the border of Mexico has escalated."

Napolitano has a valid counterargument to this, and her staff makes it for her in prepared, sanitized statements. Border staffing is at a historic peak. Rates of violence are low in most border areas, despite the scary rhetoric, which seems to reference violence across the line in Mexico.

Napolitano needs to make that argument herself. Here, in her home state, in public.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-8427. On Twitter: @senyorreporter