- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2007

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday told a House panel that his agency will not tolerate interference by so-called “sanctuary cities” when it comes to hiring illegal aliens.

Mr. Chertoff said his agency will enforce the Basic Pilot Program that requires businesses to check the legal status of new employees by matching Social Security numbers and information in Homeland Security Department databases.

Mr. Chertoff told the House Homeland Security Committee: “I certainly wouldn’t tolerate interference” by cities who attempt to block the program.

“We’re exploring our legal options,” Mr. Chertoff said. “I intend to take as vigorous legal action as the law allows to prevent that from happening, prevent that kind of interference.”

Mr. Chertoff stopped short of threatening “sanctuary cities” by withholding government funding.

“I don’t know that I have the authority to cut off all Homeland Security funds if I disagree with the city’s policy on immigration,” Mr. Chertoff said. “And of course, I have to say the consequence of that might be to put the citizens at risk, you know, in the event of a natural disaster.

“I don’t want to put people’s lives at risk, but I do think where the law gives me the power to prevent anybody from interfering with our activities, we will use the law to prevent that interference,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Sanctuary cities are those that have adopted policies banning police officers or other city employees from asking about immigration status. Some sanctuary cities have gone further: The city of New Haven, Conn., now issues identification cards regardless of legal status.

Other “sanctuary cities” include the District, Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Minneapolis, Miami and Denver.

Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, Florida Republican, suggested withholding federal funding to sanctuary cities from other nonemergency departments might steer cities away from providing sanctuary.

“I think it would depend on the city,” Mr. Chertoff said. “I could probably guess there are some cities that they’d become more stubborn. Others might change their policy.”

Mr. Chertoff said there are more than 14,000 Border Patrol agents and the agency is “on track” to get more than 18,000 by the end of next year.

“That’s what we promised last year; that promise will be kept,” Mr. Chertoff said.

Mr. Chertoff said that more than 120 miles of pedestrian fencing and 112 miles of vehicle barriers are in place along the southern border and that 145 miles of fencing will be in place by the end of the month.

Mr. Chertoff also told the panel his agency is preparing new rules to tighten security standards for private planes coming into the country from overseas including passenger checks and radiological and nuclear screening for small boats coming into U.S. ports.

“The very trait that makes these attractive as modes of transportation for people in the private sector also make them potential sources of threat,” Mr. Chertoff said.

“We do worry about the fact that someone could get a lease or occupy a private plane overseas and then use that as a way to smuggle in a dirty bomb or a weapon of mass destruction into the United States. We do worry that having locked the front door, so to speak, against dangerous containers, someone could simply put the dangerous cargo in a private oceangoing vessel and take it into a U.S. port,” Mr. Chertoff said.