PHOENIX — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano doesn't believe tough state immigration laws will prevent federal and state officials from gathering information they need to discover terrorism or other threats.
The former Arizona governor made the remarks at a Phoenix press briefing Wednesday after giving a speech to hundreds of law enforcement officials attending an intelligence training event.
Among the concerns raised by opponents of state enforcement laws like Arizona's SB1070 is that illegal immigrants will be afraid to contact law enforcement when they're victims of crimes or when they have information that police need to know.
Major parts of Arizona's law were put on hold by a judge after the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit alleging those sections of the law were unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear Arizona's appeal of that injunction next month.
Napolitano said she believes outreach efforts by local officials and the availability of special federal visas for crime victims and witnesses will keep the information flowing. And Secure Communities, a federal program that screens incoming jail detainees in a majority of the nation for warrants and immigration holds, is an added source of information.
"A lot of communities have developed outreach efforts into local communities that enable that flow of information to be very robust even as we enforce the immigration laws," Napolitano said.
Federal immigration efforts target illegal immigrant criminals, those with outstanding warrants, those caught near the border and threats to national security.
Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement sometimes farms out the jail screening by giving special powers to local agencies. In Phoenix, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had his authority to make those checks pulled after the Justice Department accused him of a wide range of civil rights violations and racial profiling. Arpaio has denied the allegations.
Napolitano, who served as governor of Arizona from 2003 to January 2009 before becoming Homeland Security secretary, spoke at a training event in downtown Phoenix for fusion centers.
Fusion centers were set up across the country after 9/11 to act as clearing houses for tips, crime reports and other information among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
She told the officers that with the threat of so-called "home-grown" terrorism increasing, the fusion centers' role as the conduit between federal intelligence and intelligence gathered by law enforcement agencies and towns and cities has become even more critical.
"It can be people who are right here and who we don't have much knowledge about," she said.