- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

President Bush has made it clear a major priority of his second term will be to fix what’s wrong with the U.S. immigration system. He has promised leadership in addressing critical immigration issues that were in the House Intelligence bill but were absent in the bill authored by the Senate. The bill approved by both Houses of Congress, which Mr. Bush is expected to sign into law, fails to address these critical issues.

I hope the president will do more than pay lip service to such issues as driver’s licenses, political asylum and other vulnerabilities and simply attempt to press on with his flawed concept of a guest-worker program. I also hope the House leadership fulfills the pledge of making these immigration issues, deleted to achieve consensus from the Intelligence bill now awaiting the president’s signature, their first order of business when Congress reconvenes in January.

I am certainly encouraged that the president is speaking out publicly about the broken immigration system. It is said a problem cannot be solved until it is identified. However, while I am glad Mr. Bush wants to tackle this critical and vital issue, I do not agree with his proposal for a temporary guest worker program for illegal aliens now in the United States. There is no other single issue facing Americans today that affects as many aspects as illegal immigration. Everything from education, Social Security, the economy, health care to national security and criminal justice are significantly affected by failure to control illegal immigration.

Those who favor open borders say we have tried to gain control over our broken immigration system by enforcing the laws, but they would have us believe enforcement won’t work. They claim this is why they favor granting amnesty to the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the country.

The president’s proposed guest worker program would constitute a form of amnesty that the more liberal members of Congress reject as inadequate. They want these millions of illegal aliens amnesty to receive an amnesty that would put them on the path to U.S. citizenship. And those who advocate greater enforcement of the immigration laws want the military on our nation’s borders. But these measures will not work.

First, we have never really tried to enforce the nation’s existing immigration laws, only to create an illusion of trying to do so. Nearly half of the illegal aliens now in the United States did not run the border. They came in through ports of entry, such as airports, as did the 19 al Qaeda terrorists who attacked our country on September 11, 2001.

For U.S. immigration laws to be effective, it must be understood that they depend on an immigration enforcement tripod. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors enforce the laws at ports of entry, U.S. Border Patrol agents enforce these critical laws between ports of entry, and agents assigned to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are supposed to enforce the laws within the interior, and are the tripod’s third leg. Shorten a leg of a tripod and it falls over.

There now are only about 2,000 agents assigned to enforcing the immigration laws in the U.S. interior. They are looking for some 400,000 aliens who were processed for deportation but absconded. The agents’ responsibilities include participating in the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Drug Task Force. They are supposed to enforce the laws as to employment of illegal aliens and investigate immigration fraud — both document fraud and schemes violating immigration laws.

They also are supposed to seek aliens convicted of committing felonies in the United States and subsequently deported, only to return illegally. The bureau that adjudicates applications for immigration benefits, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), has a backlog of some 6 million applications.

About two years ago, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found fraud a constant and severe problem at CIS. We should not be surprised. Those employees are under pressure to clear up the backlog, and virtually none are conducting field investigations into the bona fides of applications for immigration benefits. As more aliens obtain benefits via fraudulent applications, their friends hearing of it and become emboldened to file more fraudulent applications — adding to the backlog and encouraging still more fraud.

Terrorists have proved to be patient and thorough. They exploited holes in the immigration system to maintain a low profile and consequently carry out the attacks of September 11. The president and those who support his planned amnesty say amnesty will enable us to finally know who is in the United States. They say in fighting the war on terror, this would help make us more secure. Sad to say, that is not so.

Illegal aliens, as often said, stay in the “shadows,” using fraudulent identity documents and concealing themselves in the communities where they live. Few have valid identity documents and are identified by the names they use. If we ultimately enact the amnesty program, in my opinion, based on 30 years with the INS, criminals and terrorists will apply for amnesty under assumed identities and some will succeed.

The identity documents they get will enable them to live and work “normally” in the United States. Of greater concern, these documents will enable aliens who possess them to gain access to airliners and to freely cross our borders circumventing no-fly lists and watch lists at ports of entry.

Remember: There are few immigration enforcement agents within our country. Aliens who fail to depart the United States after their authorized employment is over will have little to fear from an agency that lacks resources to find and remove them.

The United States tried a similar amnesty program in 1986 under President Reagan. Some 3.5 million aliens were granted amnesty with the promise this was a “one shot” program to at last bring millions of illegal aliens out of the shadows.

Those aliens were indeed brought out of the shadows, only to be replaced by as many as 12 million illegal aliens who now live in the very same shadows.

It has been said history repeats itself. I hope not this time.

Michael W. Cutler is a 31-year Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) veteran, now retired, who spent most of his career as a criminal investigator and intelligence specialist.

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