- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The Department of Homeland Security wants to restrict the U.S. Border Patrol’s arrest of illegal aliens in the nation’s interior, concerned that the recent apprehension of 450 illegals by agents in inland areas of Southern California failed to consider the “sensitivities” of those detained.

According to department sources, a formal written policy under review would limit Border Patrol arrests to areas along the nation’s 7,000 miles of international border and give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the responsibility for enforcing immigration laws in the nation’s interior.

But ICE officials have acknowledged that it has neither the manpower nor the resources to carry out an extensive interior-enforcement program. Between 8 million and 12 million illegal aliens are thought to be in the United States.

ICE has only 2,300 agents committed to interior-enforcement efforts, and they concentrate on finding the 80,000 criminal aliens on the nation’s streets and 320,000 foreign nationals known as “absconders,” who fled after being ordered deported.

In recent weeks, ICE supervisors also have been asked to “closely scrutinize all expenditures and curtail spending to the maximum extent possible.”

Under the pending policy, according to the sources, Homeland Security would restrict the Border Patrol to the arrest of illegal aliens traveling north from the border, others at border highway checkpoints and illegals at transportation centers, such as international airports.

The California arrests took place at public locations in the state’s interior during a two-week period beginning June 4. The aliens were taken into custody by a newly trained 12-member Border Patrol team based in Temecula, Calif., known as the Mobile Patrol Group.

Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson criticized the arrests, saying they had not been approved by officials in Washington and violated U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) policy, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol.

In a letter, Mr. Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security, assured Rep. Joe Baca, California Democrat — and other members of the state’s delegation who complained about the arrests — that in the future, Homeland Security would enforce immigration laws “in a reasonable manner” and would consider the “sensitivities” surrounding the enforcement of those laws in its interior-enforcement program.

The California delegation had described those detained as victims of racial profiling and said the arrests caused panic in the Hispanic community.

CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner has described the California arrests as legal and within the Border Patrol’s jurisdiction, adding that the agency would “do whatever is necessary to control our nation’s borders.” He said the patrol was “legally entitled to interdict and apprehend individuals illegally in the United States.”

The Mobil Patrol Group remains operational, and the agency has said it would be used where there is a need, particularly in carrying out the patrol’s main priority of protecting the country against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Hutchinson spoke with community leaders and Border Patrol agents last week at a town hall meeting in Temecula, saying Homeland Security officials were working to achieve a balance between the concerns of border-enforcement proponents and issues raised by immigration advocates.

He told a crowd of angry residents demanding better enforcement of U.S. immigration laws that the Border Patrol would continue its responsibilities, but it “is not going to go out and start doing enforcement based on racial profiling.”

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents the agency’s 10,000 nonsupervisory personnel, attended the meeting and called for the arrest of illegal aliens by the patrol in the nation’s interior to continue.

“These mobile patrol arrests were actually having an impact in Mexico,” said Mr. Bonner, a 26-year Border Patrol veteran. “Word was getting around that you weren’t necessarily OK once you got past the border.”

Law-enforcement authorities said the California arrests came as a result of intelligence operations that identified locations where suspected illegal aliens were thought to gather. Much of the information, the authorities said, came from local police and residents.

The team targeted illegal aliens at public sites, including bus stops, in a 3,000-square-mile area of Southern California. Some of the arrests were made 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Members of the California delegation met with Mr. Hutchinson to complain that the Border Patrol had “outstepped its jurisdiction” in making the arrests.

In a statement, the delegation said Mr. Hutchinson “admitted” that the immigration sweeps should have been coordinated through ICE, adding that the undersecretary told lawmakers that because most of the aliens involved had resided and worked in the United States for more than a year, ICE should have handled the enforcement.

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