Immigration-reform advocates and lawmakers are among a growing number of people concerned that U.S. borders remain dangerously porous nearly a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, largely because immigration-enforcement policies continue to be ineffective.
Government officials disagree, but many experts and analysts say border-security deficits still exist and on many levels are even compromising efforts to increase homeland defense – especially at a time when U.S. intelligence believes the war on terrorism could hit home again in the form of new attacks.
For instance, Border Patrol agents and immigration-reform advocates tell WorldNetDaily of vehicles filled with illegal aliens engaging in “port running” – blazing through ports of entry on the wrong side of the road – only to immediately exit interstates on their way to disappearing.
Border Patrol agents escort arrested aliens.
They talk of lethargic and overwhelmed INS inspectors and port-of-entry officials who rarely call Border Patrol officers to pursue suspected illegal immigrants. And they criticize the bureaucratic inefficiency of many of the government’s policies, some of which were implemented after last year’s terrorist attacks.
“They [INS inspectors] are, for all purposes, asked not to enforce the immigration laws,” one Border Patrol agent said. “We get several port runners a day – what happens to these people? What are they carrying in their vehicles? Who are the vehicles carrying – terrorists or just illegals?”
Craig Nelson, executive director of Project USA, an advocacy group that supports restrictions on current levels of legal immigration, described the current state of security along U.S. borders as “atrocious.” And he says he doesn’t think the bureaucracy is up to the task of defending the nation.
“I don’t think the INS is capable in the least of securing the American people,” Nelson said.
Dan Stein, head of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, agreed, calling current levels of border security “unacceptable.”
“At best, it’s a marginal holding action,” Stein told WorldNetDaily. Security “hasn’t increased much and certainly not what we’d want or expect.”
Some improvements made
INS and other government officials disagree, telling WorldNetDaily security concerns and policies reflect the new realities posed by the Sept. 11 attacks.
The INS, for example, “has tightened policies and procedures across the board to enhance our nation’s security,” said Dan Kane, a spokesman for the agency.
“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,” he said.
And the Bush administration remains steadfast in its insistence since Sept. 11 that everything possible to increase border and homeland security is being done.
Speaking to reporters last fall, President Bush said the administration would, among other measures, establish “a foreign-terrorist tracking task force to make sure that the land of the free is as safe as possible from people who might come to our country to hurt people.”
“We welcome legal immigrants, and we welcome people coming to America. We welcome the process that encourages people to come to our country to visit, to study and to work,” he said in an Oct. 29 statement. “What we don’t welcome are people who come to hurt the American people. And so, therefore, we’re going to be very diligent with our visas and observant with the behavior of people who come to this country.”
The White House’s Office of Homeland Security did not return several phone calls seeking comment on the progress of implementing the president’s promises, but other government officials and lawmakers say there have been improvements.
A van loaded with illegals stopped by “spike pads” across highway.
Some point to new legislation passed in May that allows the government to track foreign students more closely. While some civil-liberties groups denounced the legislation as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, the White House and its supporters remind Americans that at least one of the Sept. 11 hijackers – 26-year-old Saudi national Hani Hasan Hanjour – got into the country on a student visa to study English.
The law now requires foreign students to carry identifying information such as fingerprints or retinal scans. And it mandates more intense background checks on students coming from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
Also, INS officials tell WorldNetDaily they have changed some of the agency’s procedures to match the current high threat level, such as inspection of aircraft.
“All flights into the United States are now being inspected at their first U.S. port of arrival,” said Kane, noting that INS has had to rely on its manpower to fill gaps.
“INS inspectors were reassigned and work tirelessly so that all ports of entry can be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Kane said, adding that the agency is just one of many working with the White House’s Office of Homeland Security to beef up border security.
And for some lawmakers, the terrorist attacks forced them to re-examine the volatility of U.S. borders.
“Since Sept. 11, we have learned how deeply vulnerable our immigration system is to exploitation by aliens who wish to harm Americans,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said in May. “This legislation makes needed changes to our immigration laws to fight terrorism and prevent such exploitation.”
“The full force of America’s might and wrath is going to be brought to bear on those who assaulted freedom,” said Rep. Jim Barcia, D-Mich., a member of the House Immigration Reform Caucus.
“[Terrorists] have awakened our anger, and you will be vanquished. You, who have perpetrated these acts of terror will be brought to justice, and we will leave you no quarter,” he said.
Building bureaucracy or solutions?
Despite the tough rhetoric, though, critics say many new steps are little more than bureaucratic window-dressing.
And some, like Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, worry that agencies responsible for border security like the INS, Coast Guard and U.S. Customs Service will end up mired in more bureaucratic malaise if they are assimilated into a proposed new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, or DHS.
“I and my staff caseworkers worry that INS red tape will get worse under DHS,” said Paul. “In my district close to the Mexican border, the INS directly affects the lives of thousands of people. Immigration matters are best decided by people familiar with border communities, not by DHS officials 1,500 miles away in Washington.”
The Texas Republican says he prefers the agencies remain “independent and directly responsible to the local communities they serve.”
Border-policy critics also believe Washington may be sending mixed signals to terrorists in terms of what Capitol Hill ultimately wants to accomplish on the border.
“It seemed like, as the last girder was pulled out of Ground Zero [in New York City], some lawmakers and the administration were talking about a new [illegal immigrant] amnesty,” said FAIR’s Stein of a program that is popular with President Bush and Mexican President Vincente Fox.
Stein suggested that the best border security plan is a “defense in-depth,” or an “integrated enforcement strategy” that includes more agents on the border and the ability to find and arrest illegal aliens who make it out of border areas.
“What good is the Border Patrol [to interdict illegal immigrants] if aliens think they’re going to be able to stay forever once they get through,” said Stein, who added the U.S. should “demand security improvements in the passports issued by foreign governments.”
Most agree that technology should also be more widely used to the United States’ advantage. Hand- and fingerprint scans, secure visas and integrated cooperation between federal agencies responsible for domestic security were among some of the most frequently suggested improvements.
Nelson said he backs improvements in border security that feature new immigrant-tracking systems that “include a secure identification that could be part of a shared database.”
And, he said, the federal government should allow local law enforcement to help “enforce immigration law.”
Troops on the border?
One of the most popular – and controversial – proposals to rapidly increase security at U.S. borders is to deploy American troops to assist civilian and federal enforcement actitivites.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., calls for deployment of troops at border.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and chairman of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, has said he believes the danger posed to the nation by terrorism and other potential acts of war justified the administration’s use of troops along the entirety of the U.S. border, north and south.
The Colorado Republican, who is currently on a border security fact-finding mission, issued a call June 18 asking Bush to use his authority as commander in chief to place troops on the borders.
For a brief time following the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush did authorize the use of National Guard troops to augment INS and Border Patrol forces manning checkpoints and patrolling vulnerable sections of border, mostly along the U.S. southwest. But those deployments have now, for the most part, ended.
The administration still may be considering the proposal. Reports last month said the White House was looking into changes to the Posse Comitatus Act that would allow more widespread use of U.S. troops in civil law enforcement, as it pertains to anti-terrorism measures.
Some lawmakers already back the idea. “We’ve got to figure out a new Posse Comitatus that allows the Department of Defense to step forward and defend America,” said Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., last November.
Civil libertarians oppose changing the law, which was passed in 1878 to end military occupation of the Reconstruction-era South. In its original form, the law prohibited the military from enforcing civil laws “except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress.”
But advocates of tougher border control standards say using troops specifically to guard America’s porous borders should be one of those exceptions.
Edward I. Nelson, chairman of U.S. Border Control, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration policy think tank, said his organization favors using American troops to patrol U.S. borders.
“Wherever there is a problem, American soldiers can be relied upon to get the job done – except here, on America’s own borders,” he writes in a position paper for his organization. “Why is that?”
“We are in a state of war. And we are fighting enemies who have brought the battle to our shores,” he said. “If there were ever a time for the United States to put troops on the border, this is it.”
Craig Nelson of Project USA also agreed, but with conditions.
“If it were impossible to secure the borders in any other way, then absolutely,” he said.
“We support the use of troops in enhancing the mission of civilian authority,” said Stein. “Immigration law is a matter of civil law and it ought to be enforced by civil authorities. However, in the case of a national emergency, that doesn’t mean the [military] shouldn’t be used.
“When you look at the money we spend on national defense and compare that to what we spend on immigration enforcement, you have to believe we’ve got some very skewed priorities,” Stein added.
Not a new issue
Some were calling for improved border security even before the Sept. 11 attacks.
In its final report issued in September 1997, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform – which was formed by congressional mandate in 1990 – called for improved controls against illegal immigration that included a national system of secure worker identification, as well as restructured and reduced legal immigration.
The commission recommended that lawmakers adopt a revised refugee and asylum admission system while repeating an earlier call for a new immigration policy that is in accordance with the nation’s best interests.
Commissioners also called for reform of the legal immigration structure, which it deemed “crucial” to “reversing the trend of rising immigration that the nation has experienced ever since the 1965 adoption of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” according to one analysis.
And in a June 18, 2001, report, the Congressional Research Service concluded that “border security and the threat of international terrorism are issues of intense congressional concern.”
“The challenge for policymakers is to provide for a level of border security that is commensurate with threats from abroad, while facilitating legitimate cross-border travel and commerce, and protecting civil liberties,” said the report, adding that “a number of federal agencies” should “work in tandem” to provide adequate border security.
Politics as usual?
“The American people need to know that we’re doing everything we possibly can to prevent and disrupt any attack on America, and that we’re doing everything we can to respond to attacks,” Bush said last October. But some border-control experts say “politics as usual” probably are prohibiting the adoption of stricter measures.
Project USA’s Nelson says “political ideologies” likely play a role in why the federal government’s border policies are not more strict or, at least, more strictly enforced. Border Patrol agents and INS officials who have spoken to WorldNetDaily agree; they say more liberal border policies generate sympathy for downtrodden illegal immigrants and can then be used by foreign terrorists attempting to gain entry into the U.S.
Also, Nelson and others believe “trade and financial issues” are one of the dominant forces behind continued relaxed border enforcement.
For example, he said, a 1996 immigration reform measure demanded “a visa entry-exit tracking system be implemented, but that provision was sabotaged” by some Republican lawmakers in the Senate “explicitly on grounds that it would slow down trade.”
“There’s a good case to be made that had that system been implemented, we might have had a better opportunity to discover the World Trade Center plot,” said Nelson.
Stein agreed, noting that before the Sept. 11 attacks, the “momentum” driving border policies “was driven by trade considerations.”
Trade agreements – especially those made with Canada and Mexico – “seemed to foment economic activity at the risk of security,” Stein said. “We’re not as particularly interested in border security and determining who people are as long as we can get [immigrants] in here to do cheap labor.”
“For a short while after 9-11,” said Project USA’s Nelson, “the government didn’t let economics or trade drive border security. We were checking everyone who tried to come in.”
Rhetorically at least, the Bush administration claims it is intent on using all available means – including advancements in technology – to improve border security.
“America requires a border-management system that keeps pace with expanding trade while protecting the United States and its territories from the threats of terrorist attack, illegal immigration, illegal drugs and other contraband,” said an administration position paper issued Jan. 25. “The border of the future must integrate actions abroad to screen goods and people prior to their arrival in sovereign U.S. territory, and inspections at the border and measures within the United States to ensure compliance with entry and import permits.”
Advocates say those ideas sound good – if or when they can be put into practice.
“There is no way back to the illusion that America’s borders protect it from the violence of a dangerous world,” writes Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian citizen and Carr professor of human rights policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
“The struggle against a terrorist minority that America will now take up along its borders is about the management and reduction of risk. It is not about victory,” he wrote in a paper published Sept. 23. “It seems archaic to face modern threats with outmoded rhetoric.”
One of the most robust reforms being proposed by the president is the creation of the DHS, under which many current agencies would be based. But lawmakers, policy wonks and administration officials are still debating how the largest shuffling of government agencies in two generations will ultimately play out.
He wrote that Congress erred by keeping “the immigration services functions of the [INS] within the Justice Department,” while the rest of the agency would be moved to DHS.
“The Border Patrol, immigration inspectors at airports and land-entry points, INS investigators and detention officers would work for the new Cabinet agency,” he said, “while those responsible for deciding who gets permanent residency (green cards), political asylum and citizenship would be in an entirely different agency. That would be a mistake.”
The Bush administration says it agrees.
“To make the system work, the right hand of enforcement must know what the left hand of visa application and processing is doing at all times,” White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told a Senate panel in June.
Attorney General John Ashcroft reiterated the point: “I believe that it’s very important that they be connected, because there are frequently overlaps. I believe that is best undertaken if you don’t have these two functions in different Cabinet agencies.”
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