Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Janet Napolitano (2009-2013): Secretary of Homeland Security

Janet Napolitano was born on November 29, 1957, in New York City. She moved with her family to New Mexico when she was a young girl. After graduating as valedictorian of her class from the University of Santa Clara, she attended the University of Virginia School of Law and graduated in 1983.

She began her career as a clerk for a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. After working for a law firm, Napolitano started her public service career as a U.S. attorney and then as Arizona's attorney general. In 2002, she ran for governor of Arizona. She won the election and was reelected in 2006.

As governor, she worked to address illegal immigration by strengthening her state's border and supporting enhanced security measures with regard to drivers' licenses. She also served as a strong advocate for quality schools, affordable health care, and a more efficient bureaucracy. She implemented the first state homeland security strategy in the nation and opened the first state counter-terrorism center in the country. Napolitano was the first woman and first Arizonan to chair the National Governors Association.

Her historical commitment to the responsibility of the federal government to protect our nation's borders made her an appealing choice to President Barack Obama for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He summarized his selection of her to the post by recognized that she "insists on competence and accountability. She knows firsthand the need to have a partner in Washington that works well with state and local governments. She understands as well as anyone the danger of an unsecure border."