- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2006

With Congress stalled on immigration, Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, has proposed attaching $2 billion in needed border-security funds to spending on Iraq and Katrina. This money would add agents to the Border Patrol and give them more training, as well as helicopters and fencing for the U.S.-Mexico border and more detention space for apprehended illegals. All sorely needed. Majority Leader Bill Frist supports this legislation.

So do we, since its passage would detach the urgent issue of border security from other, more controversial immigration proposals. Some conservatives are unhappy with the bloated size of this bill, as indeed we are, but clearly blame should not be attached to Mr. Gregg’s provisions. To judge by poll numbers, the public wants action on border security, perhaps even more than action on Iraq or the aftermath of Katrina. For good reason, it’s long past time to secure the borders and Congress should make it happen.

In the meantime, it’s worth reviewing the Bush administration’s odd attempts to influence Congress and public opinion. There was the arrest of nearly 1,200 illegal aliens at IFCO Systems North America facilities across the country. IFCO is the U.S. subsidiary of a Dutch firm and a supplier of wooden pallets and crates. This move could only have been theatrical. Worksite arrests have fallen under this administration to something like 3 percent of Clinton levels, as columnist John O’Sullivan noted yesterday in the New York Post. Most of the illegals were released even before Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff could inflate the significance of the arrests into a pretense of toughness.

Just as strange was the president’s setup and knockdown of a straw man called “deportation.” “Massive deportation of the people here is unrealistic. It’s just not going to work,” Mr. Bush told the Orange County Business Council in California. No one advocates deportations. To suggest otherwise dodges the real issue.

Congress at last appears poised for action. “Hopefully additional funds to border security will allow us to pass a comprehensive immigration bill,” Sen. John Cornyn said this week. Even if not, Mr. Gregg’s $2 billion would signal that border security comes first and should not be derailed by distractions.

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