- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Bush administration is beginning to “turn the tide against illegal immigration,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told a House subcommittee yesterday, as President Bush traveled to the department’s headquarters to try to boost sagging morale.

Testifying to the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, Mr. Chertoff also defended the department’s third management reorganization in its four-year history and said Mr. Bush’s $35 billion budget request for the department’s 2008 operations is “sound, sensible and ample.”

Lawmakers said the 1 percent increase over 2007 spending falls short.

“There are a number of areas of your proposed budget that are simply inadequate,” said subcommittee Chairman David E. Price, North Carolina Democrat.

Mr. Chertoff said apprehension rates for illegal aliens have fallen significantly over the past year, with U.S. Border Patrol agents making nearly 100,000 fewer arrests.

“This reflects less flow, not less success, because as we look south of the border and we validate our figures with intelligence information, the consistent picture we are getting is that we are starting to turn the tide against illegal immigration,” he said.

He said his department set a record last year with 716 criminal arrests and more than 3,600 other apprehensions at job sites, and that these actions are beginning to have a deterrent effect.

Still, he said, the department faces difficulties.

“This is not a declaration of victory,” he said. “As we push on the organizations that smuggle people illegally into the country, we are attacking a profitable, illegal business, and they will push back. And so I fully expect that we will see some ups and downs and, frankly, probably some increased border violence because we are striking at the livelihood of criminals.”

The Department of Homeland Security was created in March 2003 to merge 22 agencies into one. During his visit to headquarters yesterday, Mr. Bush said that getting the department operational “has been difficult and complicated” but progress has been measurable.

Mr. Chertoff said the Defense Department took 40 years to organize and that the first defense secretary committed suicide. “So we’re going to do better on both of those counts with respect to this department,” he said.

Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican, said morale is a problem among Border Patrol agents, particularly after the felony convictions of two agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, in a shooting that left a fleeing drug-smuggling suspect and illegal alien wounded in the buttocks.

“The tone that I pick up among law-enforcement officers on the border is that they’re frankly second-guessing,” he said. “They think twice before they draw their weapon in defense of themselves or the country, and that’s a dangerous situation.”

Mr. Chertoff said the department supports its agents “110 percent,” but that Ramos and Compean were found guilty by a jury in Texas.

“As long as they follow the rules in good faith, we will back them to the hilt,” he said.

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