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The head of the House Immigration Reform Caucus says the United States must get serious about legitimate border control measures or face increased risks to its own security.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who completed a three-day fact-finding mission along a busy stretch of Arizona border on Tuesday, gave WorldNetDaily a wide-ranging interview of what he found. As he did after three previous trips, Tancredo claimed that some areas of the border are so overrun with illegal immigrant traffic that only U.S. troops augmenting Border Patrol and INS officials could possibly hope to stem the flow and give the nation better security in these uncertain times of terrorist threats.
Also, Tancredo said he was increasingly alarmed over reports that border control personnel are more frequently being shot at, chased and targeted by “rogue elements” of the Mexican military, who are either loyal to Mexican-based drug lords or operating outside the scope of their military mandate.
Tractor-trailer load of illegal immigrants caught along Southwestern border
“I wanted to see for myself where the most recent incursions had happened,” Tancredo said of his trips. “When you talk to INS, they aren’t always clear” about what’s going on down on the borders.
Though the Colorado Republican says many more resources must be allocated in defense of the border, he added that he wasn’t confident it would happen because certain “political elements and restraints” are in competition with sound border control policy.
“We’re no safer today than we were on Sept. 12,” he said. Asked why, he answered, “Because there is no political will to do anything about it.”
“The president of the United States is afraid of the political ramifications of imposing a true secure border around this nation,” he said.
More so, even, than the risks of leaving the borders unprotected?
“Evidently,” Tancredo replied. “How else can you possibly explain this? How else can members of Congress let this happen?”
Most lawmakers, he opined, believe lax border policies “translate into votes,” which makes them reluctant to crack down – a phenomenon he called “despicable, irresponsible, irrational, and a death wish for the nation.”
Opposition to more control
While most pro-immigration groups see a need to change policy to reflect the current reality of the ongoing – and, some say, growing – terrorist threat, they also are opposed to putting troops on borders, asking local police forces to step up enforcement of national immigration laws, and electronic tracking measures for immigrants and foreign visitors.
“The United States is facing a new challenge, the scourge of international terrorism, and clearly the federal government has an obligation to rise to this challenge,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “However, at the same time we take urgent measures to protect our nation, we also must endeavor to protect our values, traditions, and freedoms.”
With respect to immigration, the specific challenge is to find the means to keep out potential terrorists who want to destroy this country at the same time we admit newcomers who want to help build America,” Sharry said.
Also, civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, are fighting new Justice Department and INS rules.
Whether holding “rights training” for jailed detainees or seeking court injunctions against the Justice Department’s policy of holding post-Sept. 11 terror-related deportation hearings in secret, the ACLU and other groups have been actively opposing new restrictions.
The AFL-CIO supports legalization of undocumented immigrants, and some groups – like the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, seek to “defend and expand the rights of all immigrants, regardless of legal status.”
“We recognize that increasingly harsh immigration reforms have made it more difficult to legalize status, leaving many people vulnerable to exploitation, discrimination, and family separation,” the NNIRR said in a recent position paper. “Numerous studies, including those by the U.S. General Accounting Office, have shown that these sanctions lead to discrimination against people of color.”
Border incursions continue
Nevertheless, some Border Patrol agents, border control advocates, and lawmakers say doing little or nothing to guard America’s borders not only will cost the nation in terms of national security, but also could begin costing American lives.
Along this line, says Tancredo, one of the most serious and immediate problems he encountered was border incursions committed by rogue Mexican military and police elements, drug lords, and armed immigrant traffickers.
The lawmaker’s latest fact-finding mission took him to the Tohono O’Odham Indian Nation, where officials of the 71-member tribal police department claim many of the most recent border incursions have taken place – the last recorded incident occurring in May.
Tancredo said he believes that “because the level of drugs has gone up, we’re also seeing a rise in Mexican government incursions.”
“We’ve got [rogue] elements of the Mexican military on the take who are acting as protectors and decoys for major [drug] shipments,” he said.
Mexican soldiers have been accused of shooting at, pursuing U.S. citizens, patrols
Tribal police, whose Indian nation shares a 76-mile border with Mexico, report that since immigration interdiction rates on the eastern and western side of their nation have dramatically improved, drug runners and illegal immigrant smugglers “have been funneling through” that narrow section of border.
Tohono O’Odham police officials also say at least 1,500 illegals a day are passing through their nation – many with drugs. And they said their officers, like Border Patrol agents, also are being “chased” by Mexican soldiers and police.
“Their way of life is essentially being destroyed,” Tancredo said of the tribe. “You cannot believe the amount of trash the illegal immigrants leave behind. It looks like a national dump – water bottles, clothes, anything and everything” is strewn about.
“It’s a tragedy for these people but I think they’re a microcosm for what is happening to the rest of America,” he said. “From the beginning of this year to the end of July, tribal officials have towed 3,239 vehicles from the reservation.”
Tribal police officials say that from Oct. 1, 2001 through the end of last month, nearly 56,000 illegals were apprehended.
“Those are just the apprehensions,” Tancredo said.
He said tribal police must hand over all illegal immigrants to federal authorities, and he said that despite the sovereignty of the Indian nation, federal Border Patrol and INS agents still are required to patrol the U.S. border there.
‘OTMs’ on the rise
Besides drugs, the Colorado congressman noted an increase in OTM’s – “other than Mexicans” – being spotted by border control personnel.
The number of Middle Eastern and Chinese men crossing the border is rising, he said. And while nationality alone does not signify a distinct terrorist threat, U.S. intelligence officials, the Justice Department and the INS have singled out Mideastern men for increased scrutiny since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to separate reports.
Also, there are fears in some quarters that China may be trying to infiltrate the U.S. using its own porous borders, mostly for reasons of espionage.
Tancredo said lax border controls would “absolutely and undeniably” worsen the danger the nation faces from potential terrorists.
“The Tohono O’Odham police say there are people coming through their nation that are Middle Eastern,” he said. “Also, they see a lot of Chinese coming through as well.”
Tancredo said that, in fact, Chinese illegals “are the most significant number of OTMs” getting through.
Because of the reluctance or refusal of local police departments to enforce immigration law, and because of climbing attrition rates among Border Patrol and INS personnel, many border control supporters advocate the use of U.S. troops to augment existing federal border forces.
Tancredo issued a call June 18 to President Bush asking him to use his authority as commander-in-chief to post American troops along the United States’ lengthy borders with Mexico and Canada as an anti-terrorism measure. Though both nations are considered allies, Tancredo and others say the nation is at war against terrorism and cannot afford the risk.
To force the issue, the Colorado congressman initiated a petition drive he says garnered so much response he was asked by House officials to remove it from his website.
“Before we ever put it up, we asked them if it would be okay,” Tancredo said. “But later they came back and said, ‘We’ve looked at it a little further and it skirts the [ethical] line,’ so we’ve had to put it on our campaign website.”
In a June 21 press release, Tancredo said the petition overwhelmed the White House e-mail servers. He said since the inception of the petition he has received more than 25,000 electronic “signatures” so far, but the White House “has simply refused to accept them.”
“Now we’ve got to figure out a way to print them out and deliver them,” he said.
In terms of numbers, Tancredo said he’s been advised that “at least 20,000 troops” would be needed to secure both the northern and southern borders.
“We’re talking about a combination of electronic, human, and very low-tech prevention measures,” he said, including cameras and motion sensors to help available manpower interdict illegal immigrant traffic.
But the administration says it wants no part of putting troops on the border. Tancredo said a recent conversation he had with White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge summed up the administration’s position.
“He said, ‘We’ll never do that because there are cultural and political reasons why we can’t,'” Tancredo said.
And yet, the congressman pointed out, “we have 40,000 troops between Korea and Kosovo, on their borders, but not one here.”
Tancredo insisted that something must be done, however, to put more manpower on the border because of increasing attrition rates being experienced by the Border Patrol and INS field personnel. However, the Colorado Republican says he understands why so many want to leave.
“They’re so frustrated,” he told WorldNetDaily. “How would you like to go and risk your [life] everyday and know that all that’s happening to the people you arrest is that they’re being let go?”
He says INS personnel also are frustrated because they’re being asked not to interdict even terrorist suspects, as WorldNetDaily reported Thursday.
“When they know they’re having [illegal immigrants] coming at them from every side, and when they know their own government doesn’t support what they’re doing, I’d be frustrated too,” said Tancredo. “This has all kinds of ramifications.”
Asked if conditions on the border were getting worse, Tancredo said it appeared so.
“I go to the spots where it’s the worst, so naturally what I see is overwhelming,” he said.
Agent watches as dozens of illegal immigrants attempt to scale border fence
He compared Border Patrol and INS policies to placing a “a few bricks” in front of millions of gallons of rushing water.
Border Patrol and INS officials who spoke on condition of anonymity say security on the border – especially the southwest border – is, in many ways, worse than before Sept. 11. Others say that contrary to INS claims, all U.S. ports of entry are not open 24 hours a day, seven days per week.
“For one thing, we have fewer agents now than we did before 9-11,” one senior Border Patrol agent said. Worse, “the agents that we have are lacking in experience, and won’t be able to gain knowledge from the seasoned agents because they are not sticking around.”
On Tuesday an INS official said the agency was on “Threat Level One status,” which is the highest alert condition.
“Within hours of the attack, all ports of entry were placed on ‘Threat Level One’ status and continue in that status today, despite the strain on our personnel,” said INS spokesman Dan Stein. “INS inspectors were reassigned and work tirelessly so that all ports of entry can be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The senior border agent scoffed at that, noting that the nation’s sole border law enforcement agency is losing too many officers.
“We’re hemorrhaging green,” he said, a reference to the color of Border Patrol uniforms.
“[Agents] are treated with little to no respect by the politicians, [and] we are treated with even less respect by the average citizen,” the agent said. “Our authority and ability to do our job is hindered by management that is afraid to get the ‘wrong’ people mad.”
“The passion for the job is stifled by the restraints placed upon us by politicians both in D.C., as well as those in the Patrol,” said another.
Border Patrol targets?
Border Patrol agents and INS field inspectors also complain about working conditions that are harsh already and are getting worse – and more dangerous.
Officials also deal with increased drug trafficking, such as this cocaine shipment
“We are some of the lowest paid federal law enforcement officers in the [country], and we feel as if we have been abandoned by the country we wish to serve and protect,” one Border Patrolman said.
And, as WorldNetDaily has previously reported, other sources now have confirmed that Border Patrol agents have $200,000 price tags on their heads in the form of bounties offered by Mexico-based drug lords.
As also previously reported, agents complain that they are increasingly fired upon by Mexican police or troops that often cross into the United States – by accident, according to Mexican officials. Those incursions are bad enough, agents and inspectors say, but they are made worse because the U.S. government excuses them by providing Mexican officials with political cover.
Tancredo says he’s heard of similar incidents but so far “there is nothing we can pin it on” in terms of hard, documented evidence.
“We are not even given the option of taking out M-4s (a shorter version of the M-16 assault rifle) so that we can be adequately armed to repel these incursions and attacks on our national security, and our lives,” one Border Patrol agent said.