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Napolitano knocks bill to penalize illegals.

Napolitano knocks bill to penalize illegals.

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The former governor of Arizona took a shot Thursday at ongoing efforts by Republican legislators to enact state laws to make being in this country illegally a violation of state trespassing laws.

"I thought I was right when I vetoed it the first time, I thought I was right the second time, I thought I was right the third time," Janet Napolitano told her audience at Arizona State University.

Napolitano, who quit as governor more than a year ago to become homeland security secretary in the Obama administration, said the problem with the bill goes beyond strictly the "trespass" provision. In the past -- as in the current version awaiting House action -- it also includes language which would require police to check the immigration status of everyone with whom they come into official contact.

"What those laws do is they take away the ability of law enforcement in different communities to set their own priorities," Napolitano said. "They create a cookie-cutter approach to law enforcement that really doesn't match the fact that the law enforcement situation in, say, Nogales, is very different than here, which is very different than that, say, of Show Low."

The legislation is backed by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, and Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista. They say they want to end what they call "sanctuary policies" in some communities where police are told they should not try to routinely determine if people are illegal immigrants.

The merits of the legislation aside, Napolitano also echoed questions already raised about whether the provisions are legal, particularly having local police charge those who entered the country in violation of federal immigration laws under the state crime of trespass. "Ultimately it may be for the courts to decide," she said.

Napolitano also expressed some sympathy for her successor who has had to deal with several years of deficits.

"This is a very difficult time for any governor ... given the depth and breadth of the recession we have undergone as a country," she said. And Napolitano said states lack both the flexibility and the tools that the federal government has to deal with revenue shortfalls.

"I fully appreciate the situation the situation that Gov. (Jan) Brewer has been dealing with and the difficulties that she has been confronted," Napolitano said.

But the former governor never addressed the fact the state was already spending more than it was taking in before she left in early 2009 and that Napolitano dealt with those deficits through various accounting maneuvers like shifting expenses into future years, moves that created an even deeper problem when the recession deepened.

Brewer, in a series of speeches, has made no secret of the fact she believes the size of the current deficit is due in large part to the practices of her predecessor.

As recently as November, Brewer said, she "inherited a budget deficit created from years of overspending and living beyond our means."

Napolitano also said she made the right decision earlier this year when she pulled the plug on construction of a "virtual fence" along the southern Arizona border to stop smugglers.

"The problem is the concept is very expensive and it hasn't worked," she said. Rather than spend "hundreds of millions of dollars more," Napolitano said she made the decision to instead invest in technology that is available now and can be used by border officers.

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