Janet Napolitano Exclusive: Behind-the-Scenes with the Homeland Security Secretary

An exclusive look at a day in the life of Secretary Napolitano.

ByABC News via GMA logo
April 25, 2010, 1:31 PM

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2010— -- Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an exclusive interview she agreed with President Obama's assessment that Arizona's recent rigid immigration law is "misguided" and said that the time for immigration reform -- including fines and a form of biometric registration for illegal aliens as well as mandatory English -- has come.

"This affects everybody, and I actually view it now as a security issue," Napolitano told ABC News Friday during an exclusive look into a day in the life of the Homeland Security secretary. "We need to know who's in the country. And we need to know, for those who are in the country illegally, there needs to be a period under which they are given the opportunity to register so we get their biometrics, we get their criminal history and we know who they are. They pay a fine. They learn English. They get right with the law."

Napolitano said it was a lack of federal reform that provoked Arizona's controversial law which allows Arizona police to question and arrest people with nothing more than "reasonable suspicion" about their immigration status.

"That one is a misguided law. It's not a good law enforcement law. It's not a good law in any number of reasons. But beyond that, what it illustrates is that other states now will feel compelled to do things. And you will have this patchwork of laws where we need a federal immigration system that meets our security needs, that recognizes where we need to go in this 21st century and gives us a better framework on which to stand," she said.

Napolitano made the comments, fittingly enough, on the way to a naturalization ceremony. She's only hours into a day that started with a crisis on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and won't end until the late hours of the night.

The job of secretary of the Department of Homeland Security is one of the most pressure-packed jobs in Washington. Last week, ABC News got a rare, exclusive look inside Janet Napolitano's world.

At 7:30 a.m. accompanied by the U.S. Secret Service, Napolitano arrives at headquarters before most of Washington is at work.

A short time later, the first order of business is a top secret intelligence briefing, which includes all the ways terrorists are plotting to kill Americans.

The job is about preventing or responding to disasters -- everything from the Swine Flu pandemic to Mother Nature. And today there is already an ongoing crisis to deal with.

At 8:30 a.m., huge pillars of smoke continue flowing out of the Gulf of Mexico, where a catastrophic explosion sank a massive oil rig. At the time, all anyone knew is that workers are likely dead and there is the potential for environmental disaster.

The secretary begins a secure conference call with the Coast Guard and a host of other agencies.

"Good morning Madam Secretary, this is Admiral Landry in New Orleans," begins Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, commander of the Coast Guard's Eighth District.

An official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joins the call.

"We're going to have a strong cold front sweep through the Gulf Coast states today through Saturday," the NOAA official says. "This cold front is going to produce very severe weather ... . We could have a big tornado outbreak today and tomorrow."

"And where would this outbreak occur in all likelihood?" Napolitano asks.

"From Arkansas down to Central Louisiana and the Eastern portions of Texas," the official responds.

"Alright, and I'm assuming FEMA's alert to this and is leaning forward?"

It's a situation she will deal with all day, but right now -- she's due at the White House for a naturalization ceremony. So it's down the stairs, and into a car for Napolitano, aides and her security detail.