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Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday scolded senators for failing to pass an immigration bill with new border and interior enforcement tools, refused to commit to spending the $4.4 billion in border security President Bush said is needed, and said the onus is now on Congress to pass something.
“We’re going to say to the members of Congress who think they have a better way that they should produce legislation and pass legislation, which they have not done for the past two years,” Mr. Chertoff said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“They’ve tried ‘enforcement-only.’ That didn’t pass. We’ve tried ‘comprehensive.’ That’s stalled. I think it’s now time for Congress, which has the power to legislate, to make a determination about how it wants to help us solve this problem,” he said.
When pressed by host Chris Wallace about the $4.4 billion that Mr. Bush vowed during the immigration-bill debate to spend on border security, Mr. Chertoff said that money was to have come from fines paid under the bill’s legalization program and thus said funding border security is now Congress‘ problem.
“Well, we’ve submitted a budget. We submitted a comprehensive immigration plan. We agreed on $4.4 billion, which was going to be secured by the payments made by the illegals, so it would not bust the budget. In the absence of that plan, I think now those who have a better way ought to come forward with that better way,” he said.
The immigration reform proposal reached behind closed doors by Mr. Bush and a small bipartisan group of senators would have included a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens and a new guest-worker program, in addition to stricter employer verification. The bill collapsed last week after falling 14 votes short of the 60 votes needed to force a final vote.
Mr. Chertoff said he will have a tough time enforcing existing laws without some of the tools the Senate bill would have given him, including stiffer employer sanctions, but said the administration has been enforcing the laws and will continue to do so.
“We’re going to continue to enforce the law. It’s going to be tough,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “I wish we had some of the tools that were left on the floor of the Senate when they abandoned the bill last week, but we will do what we have to do with the resources we have at our disposal.”
“We don’t really have the ability to enforce the law with respect to illegal work in this country in a way that’s truly effective,” he added on “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Chertoff has repeatedly described the failure to pass the administration’s bill as de facto amnesty because it preserves the status quo. Yesterday, he also complained that failure to pass the bill would limit the Homeland Security Department’s ability to track companies who illegally hire migrant workers.
“We haven’t been able to require every employer to enter a system in which they check the work status of their employees and determine whether they’re legal,” he told Fox. “And without that, we don’t really have the ability to enforce the law with respect to illegal work in this country in a way that’s truly effective. And that would be the single greatest additional weapon we could use if we’re serious about tackling this problem.”
On ABC, Mr. Chertoff said he is not sure the Senate bill has been killed — “I don’t know that it’s dead for the year” — but he and other Bush administration officials have said over the past few days that after rejecting Mr. Bush’s approach, Congress must find a way to do something.
Mr. Chertoff again denied claims by Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, that the administration has stalled on the deployment of additional border fencing. Congress approved a bill last year that added several hundred miles of new security fencing.
Mr. Hunter, who is seeking his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, has made illegal immigration a leading part of his campaign platform and says only 13 miles of the new border fencing has actually been built.
“What we’ve done is we are working on and will complete by September — we’ll be up to about 140 miles to 150 miles of fencing,” Mr. Chertoff said. “As anybody who’s ever built a fence or a wall knows, you don’t build it one mile at a time.”
“We’re on track to get about 370 miles done by the end of ‘08. But I do have to say that for people who believe the answer is just fence, yesterday we discovered a tunnel. So fencing is not the cure-all for the problem at the border.”
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