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National Public Radio "All Things Considered" - Transcript


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National Public Radio "All Things Considered" Interview With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Subject: The Swine Flu And Immigration Issues Interviewer: Michele Norris

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MS. NORRIS: We begin this hour with an interview with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on swine flu and other matters.

Schools and businesses in Mexico and the U.S., once closed for fear of the flu outbreak, are moving back into normal routines. Even so, the World Health Organization is still suggesting that a large number people -- as many as 2 billion worldwide -- could eventually be infected.

The WHO says not everyone who's infected would actually even notice. Janet Napolitano told me it's no time for complacency.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: We're not declaring victory over the H1N1 flu. We know that the virus, as it originally presented, was not as lethal as originally thought, but it did spread very rapidly throughout the United States. We know that people are still contracting the flu. They're getting sick; some are being hospitalized.

We had our -- unfortunately and tragically -- our second death yesterday. We know that hospitalizations and death go with any outbreak of the flu, so we anticipated that, but we're still going through it.

We also know, however, that this flu could come back -- particularly in the fall. And so now we're moving into let's get lessons learned from the last 10 days and then move forward.

MS. NORRIS: You know, the chief of staff at the White House, Rahm Emanuel, is known for saying that one should never waste the crisis. There's a lot to learn from the biggest challenges that you face.

What did this administration learn from the swine flu episode? Looking back, are there things that the government should have done better?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: I actually was pleased overall with the government's response in several ways. One, the decision at the outset to get ahead of the flu and to rely on scientists -- particularly the epidemiologists at the CDC -- for help in directing guidance. I was pleased with the amount of interaction we had with states and with the private sector.

There are other things that I think we're going to have to work on. For example, should we have a true pandemic associated with a lot of absenteeism from work or from school, I'm not sure many in the private sector really are prepared and have thought through what do you do if you have a 30 percent absenteeism rate?

Nor in the government -- how do you make sure that the basic functions of society continue, even at the high point of an epidemic? And so that's the kind of planning now that we need to work on over the course of the summer.

MS. NORRIS: As you think about the possibility that this might return in the fall, what will keep you up at night over the summer?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, we'll be working. Obviously, the Department of Health and Human Services with the CDC is going to be working with the pharmaceutical companies on manufacture and distribution of vaccine, but we'll hopefully be helping to inform some of those decisions as well.

MS. NORRIS: Six-month time line for the development of a vaccine to deal with this. Does that worry you at all -- that the time line for the possible return of this might fall behind the time line for the vaccine?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, the time line for vaccine -- I've heard different evidence. I'm not sure there is a hard and fast time line. You are right.

Theoretically, there could be a disconnect of the flu coming back before a vaccine were ready, but I think the Department of Health and Human Services with the pharmaceuticals is going to do everything they can to prevent that from occurring.

MS. NORRIS: You've got a big docket there at the Department of Homeland Security. I'd like to turn to immigration, if I could.

President Obama is asking Congress for $27 billion to ramp up immigration enforcement and security along the U.S.-Mexico border. One goal is to stop illegal immigrants from entering the U.S.

And I'm wondering if this is essentially a piecemeal approach throwing good money after bad until this country takes up comprehensive immigration reform.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: I wouldn't put it that way. I think what the president understands and that I understand is that you have to enforce the immigration law, and that the American people need to understand that the immigration law is being enforced.

You need to do it intelligently. But as, you know, the former U.S. attorney, attorney general and governor of Arizona -- the border state with perhaps the most active border with Mexico for illegal immigration -- I'm very familiar with these issues. And you have to have a strong enforcement agenda and that's what he's providing funds for.

MS. NORRIS: And as a state official from a border state, what should be done with the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants that are already in this country?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, I think -- it was interesting. Yesterday, I had a hearing before the full Senate Judiciary Committee. And I didn't say anything specifically asked to that, except saying that has to be part and parcel of what the Congress addresses when it takes up the issue.

MS. NORRIS: I just want to clarify something you said yesterday at the Senate Judiciary hearing. You talked about revisiting all the visa programs. What's wrong with the current programs? What are you talking about changing?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, I think you need to look at what the eligibility criteria are. You need to look at the length of time for the visas. You need to look at the numbers of visas permitted in certain areas. You have to look at the time line for visas -- all the nuts and bolts of an immigration system.

If you're going to take up the issue of immigration, it's an ideal time to look at all of the subprograms that go on under that.

MS. NORRIS: Secretary Napolitano, thank you very much for your time.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Thank you a lot.

MS. NORRIS: That was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.


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