The Tar Pit

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chertoff talks tough, sort of, on illegals

Department of Homeland Security Secretary held a press conference in Houston today, outlining some new initiatives from the Bush Administration against the growing national problem of illegal aliens.

These proposals would have earned an A- had the President sought them in the aftermath of the attacks September 11th, 2001. It's now November of 2005. While the proposals are still a good, if very late start, the Administration has a long way to go to restore the trust of most Americans and conservatives in the President's seriousness in addressing the problem in ways that don't reward illegal aliens. As it stands, Chertoff earns a C+, in pencil, for a decent press conference.

Here are a few highlights and observations:

Today I want to lay out a plan for where DHS is going – a Secure Border Initiative that will ultimately represent a transformational approach to securing our borders from terrorism and reducing illegal migration.

But before I outline our vision, I want everyone in this room to know how committed the President is to solving this problem. Just a few days ago, when he signed the DHS appropriations bill, he said that it is his Administration's goal to catch and remove every single illegal entrant caught at the border – with no exceptions.

This is a nice goal, but why is there an emphasis on "illegal entrant(s) caught at the border?" What about the illegal aliens that live care-free lives in the American interior?

Those were carefully chosen words and the President meant each one of them.

You can bet "the jobs Americans won't do" they were carefully chosen. If I was a skeptic, I might think that Chertoff and the President are telling illegals who've been here a while to "hang tight, help is on the way."

Sorta reminds me of the time that President Bush said "I did not have Amnesty with that illegal alien, not a single time, never," or something like that, many times before.

First, we must address the issue of personnel and ensure we have enough boots on the ground to carry out our security plans and enforce our policies. Last night, I went on patrol with some of the brave agents in the El Paso sector. Theirs is dangerous and difficult work. We must provide the manpower and resources they need to carry out their duties, and we are working hard to make sure they get them. I place special emphasis on the need to give them the means to protect themselves against violence from criminal traffickers.

We have already made progress. Since 9/11, yearly spending on border security has increased by $2.8 billion (60 percent). Recently, the President signed the DHS Appropriations bill which included more than $7 billion for Customs and Border Protection – the DHS agency responsible for the frontline of our borders. I thank Congress for its swift action.

With that money and other funds appropriated by Congress earlier this year, we have begun to recruit, hire and graduate 1,500 new Border Patrol agents. And with these new hires, we are on track to have increased our Border Patrol force by nearly 30 percent, close to 3,000 agents since 9/11. Later today, I will be addressing some of these new agents at their training academy in New Mexico.

Pssst... Secretary Chertoff, those 1,500 new agents are a shortfall of 500 from the 2,000 new Border Patrol agents required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which the President signed just last December 17th. To be fair, 1500 is a better number than the 210 new agents the President sought in his Budget Request less than two months after signing onto 2000.

One example. Building on the success of a recent pilot program, we recently obtained a Predator B Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to enhance our ability to secure the southwest border. Furthermore, we are taking opportunities to partner with the Department of Defense to adapt advanced but proven military technologies to help us with our mission.

This pilotless pilot program was remarkably successful in several ways. As noted here, "1,252 of the 853,000 observed illegal aliens were successfully apprehended, or less than two tenths of 1%." We detected a lot of illegals, and we detected how bad a job we were doing of apprehending them.

Let me be clear – we will not build a giant wall across our borders. But in areas where it makes sense to do so, we will look at physical infrastructure and technology improvements to deter illegal border crossings.

Second, we cannot have an effective border or interior enforcement strategy without an efficient detention and quick removal system. Our efforts to add border patrol agents and catch more migrants will be undercut if we turn around and release them.

Today, apprehensions of illegal migrants strain our capacity to detain and ultimately remove these individuals. As a result, those we apprehend have a good chance of being released with a notice to appear in court at some point in the future. Yet, once released many fail to appear when their court date arrives.

Through the Secure Border Initiative, we are tackling this problem by moving aggressively to re-engineer the removal process – a key enabler for greater border control. Let me give you an example. In FY 05 the Border Patrol apprehended about 160,000 non-Mexican illegal aliens along the southwest border. Because of strained capacity and inefficiencies in the removal process, 120,000 of these aliens were released with a notice to appear at court in the future. This "catch and release" process must change and it will. DHS has already begun implementing immediate actions to transform this from "catch and release" to "catch and return."

For example, we have substantially expanded our detention capacity. The Homeland Security Appropriations Act for 2006 contained funds that will enable us to add nearly 2,000 new beds, bringing the total number of beds to about 20,000. This action alone, by enabling us to detain more aliens until removed, will allow us to remove thousands of illegal immigrants from our country.

I have also directed the expanded use of Expedited Removal to all Border Patrol sectors along the southwest border. This allows us to remove, quickly, eligible aliens, reducing the time required in detention prior to removal. We are working to reduce the processing time for aliens in Expedited Removal from roughly 30 days to 15 days.

Well, I'm all for giving credit where it's due. Who gets the credit for waiting four years to do what should have been done about four days after September 11th, 2001?

Third, while a more robust detention and removal system, increased border patrol agents and better technology and infrastructure will mean greater border control, apprehension of illegal entrants is just the first step. As the President said, our goal is to remove every single illegal entrant - without exception. Through SBI, we will implement robust interior enforcement to uphold the rule of law and punish illegal workers and employers who hire them.

Though a large part of our interior enforcement strategy involves worksite enforcement, it is not limited to that. It includes more focused efforts that locate and remove criminal aliens, dismantle human trafficking and smuggling operations, all in addition to reducing document fraud at the worksite.

Where there's smoke, there's a gun. Notice again the focus on removing "every single illegal entrant - without exception." Then the emphasis on interior enforcement against "criminal aliens."

Chertoff and the President are dancing all around the bulk of the problem, which is the "illegal aliens" who are trespassing here with little fear of removal by the Bush Administration.

I am committed to promoting border enforcement task forces and to expanding the use of our existing legal authorities to train state law enforcement personnel. We have already begun to use our legal authorities to authorize state corrections officers to identify, process, and begin removal procedures on incarcerated criminals before they are released. This means that convicted illegal migrants can be deported directly from state prisons without delay in processing. We will build on successful pilot programs in Alabama, Florida, and Arizona to enable us to get convicted criminals out of this country as soon as their sentences end.

Wow, President Bush has been in office almost five years, and Chertoff boasts that they're just now getting started on removing convicted criminal illegals as they're released.

How about updating the national sex offender registries so that they indicate how many illegal alien predators have been released into our communities to the indifference, thus far, of the federal authorities?

Working with the Secretary of State, we are in the process of streamlining internal U.S. government procedures to cut days from escorted deportation. Because an overwhelmed removal pipeline is our most immediate problem – cutting even a few days from the average deportation will allow us to increase removals by thousands a year.

Again, welcome to the party, Mr. Chertoff. Glad you found the time.

In the coming months, you will hear from us with a range of specific proposals – some that generate headlines and others that won't – to put flesh on the bones of the Secure Border Initiative.

"We're not unveiling the rest of the agenda, including (President Bush's 'any willing employee' guest worker plan) just yet."

For anyone who doubts that's still the President's agenda, see his remarks from his October 22nd radio address:

"If an employer has a job that no American is willing to take, we need to find a way to fill that demand by matching willing employers with willing workers from foreign countries on a temporary and legal basis. I'll work with members of Congress to create a program that will provide for our economy's labor needs without harming American workers, and without granting amnesty, and that will relieve pressure on our borders."

It would be a lot easier to believe the President didn't want amnesty for illegals if he wasn't always looking for ways to legalize them. All of this new enforcement will be a welcome relief, but the President's omissions in his radio address regarding illegal aliens in the interior, and Chertoff's similar omissions in his press conference today, make it pretty obvious that another disingenuous amnesty proposal is on the way "in the coming months."

Without doubt, this initiative requires a concerted effort to get all of the pieces moving in the right direction. To ensure that these efforts are well coordinated, we have set up a special task force in a Secure Border Initiative Program Office – integrating experts and resources from across the Department of Homeland Security to focus on this important challenge. This effort will result in unprecedented unity of command and unity of purpose in looking systemically at the problems of our borders and in measuring our progress toward solving them. This effort will report to me through our new policy office – ensuring that it receives the full attention of the highest levels of the Department.

Our borders represent an enormous security challenge – as well as a vital economic lifeline. Securing them in the most effective and efficient manner possible is our goal. We know of the very real frustration that people in Texas and other border states have expressed about the state of border security. We have listened, we are responding, and we will do everything in our power to get the job done.

Well, it all sounds great, but tough talk has been cheap on illegals where the Bush Administration has been concerned.

Only last year, the President said to illegals, "You're going to come here if you're worth your salt."

That'll scare them.

Hat Tip: ImmigrationProf Blog