Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is resigning to take a senior position in the University of California system, U.S. officials said Friday.

Napolitano has led the department since the beginning of the Obama administration, just the third person to hold this post.

“For more than four years I have had the privilege of serving President Obama and his Administration as the Secretary of Homeland Security,” Napolitano said in a statement. “The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the frontlines of our nation’s efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career. We have worked together to minimize threats of all kinds to the American public.”

Napolitano will serve as the president of the University of California system. While she has not had any prior experience in the education sector, she was the governor of Arizona from 2002 to 2009 and before that served as the state’s attorney general.

Despite her lack of educational work, Napolitano does have strong ties to the Golden state. She did her undergraduate work at Santa Clara University and was its first woman valedictorian before earning her law degree at University of Virginia.

“While some may consider her to be an unconventional choice, Secretary Napolitano is without a doubt the right person at the right time to lead this incredible university,"  Sherry Lansing, the regent and former film industry executive who headed the search committee, said in a statement according to the Los Angeles Times. "She will bring fresh eyes and a new sensibility – not only to UC, but to all of California. She will stand as a vigorous advocate for faculty, students and staff at a time when great changes in our state, and across the globe, are presenting as many opportunities as challenges.”

The former Homeland Security secretary has also been a champion of immigration reform, arguing earlier this spring that she believed reform would bolster national security rather than hinder it as some have argued.

While testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee, Napolitano said sweeping immigration legislation would improve U.S. security by helping authorities to know who is in the country. The Department of Homeland Security is the umbrella organization that houses Customs and Border Portection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Pointing out that the wide-ranging bill circulating in Congress devotes more money to securing the border, Napolitano said the eventual path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants here illegally is of great importance.

"One of the real significant improvements made by this bill is to bring people out of the shadows," she said. "We know who they are. We know where they are. And by the way, from a police perspective, once these people know that every time they interact with law enforcement they won't be subject to removal, it will help with the reporting of crimes, the willingness to be a witness and so forth."

Despite these statements, some pro-immigration reform groups see her resignation as a positive sign for the movement. The hope from these groups is that Napolitano’s yet-be-named successor will shift the focus of DHS away from deportations and more toward inclusion in the system.

“Secretary Napolitano presided over the largest increase in deportations in American history,” Javier H. Valdés, the co-executive director the immigrant rights groups Make the Road New York said in a statement. “Because she is stepping down now before comprehensive immigration reform becomes law, her legacy will be one of deportations, not reform.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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