Joe M. Allbaugh, the outspoken former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), says the U.S. government needs to do a better job of securing the U.S.-Mexico border against illegal immigration and to step up its efforts to control what's being shipped daily into the United States.
"The southern border is porous, and we need to shut it down if we hope to get ahead of the problems that illegal immigration brings," Mr. Allbaugh said on Thursday during a luncheon meeting with editors at The Washington Times. "Less than 5 percent of the 125,000 containers coming into this country each day are ever inspected."
Mr. Allbaugh, who managed President George W. Bush's winning 2000 presidential campaign, then served as FEMA director and now has his own lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., noted the importance of a secure border in pointing out that the FBI has identified as many as 185 terrorists cells as being active in the United States.
"Just what are we doing about it?" he asked. "We have overly focused on airplanes. We need to look left, fake right … and the technology is out there to make all this go away in a heartbeat."
Mr. Allbaugh, who talked recently with Texas Gov. Rick Perry about his 2012 presidential aspirations, said the White House — either President Obama or whatever Republican might be elected — is responsible for ensuring that the nation's border is secure.
"The public is demanding change, and the only way it can make sure that happens with regard to border enforcement is through the ballot box," he said.
Mr. Allbaugh — one of Mr. Bush's "Iron Triangle" of advisers who helped guide his political career, along with campaign strategist Karl Rove and Karen Hughes, Mr. Bush's director of communications — said he did not know whom the Republicans ultimately will nominate to run in 2012, but if Mr. Perry gets the nod, he'll have to overcome criticism by some fellow conservatives as being too lenient on illegal-immigration issues.
Unlike fellow Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann, Mr. Perry does not think the U.S. should build a wall spanning the entire Mexican border. Mr. Perry also has supported discounted college-tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants at Texas universities, and has said Arizona's tough-on-immigration law wouldn't be right for Texas.
Mr. Perry drew boos earlier this month during a presidential debate for his approval of the Texas version of the Dream Act, allowing illegal immigrants already in the country to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, and that he was opposed to construction of a fence along the southern border.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney responded by saying, "Of course we build a fence, and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who have come here illegally."
Mr. Allbaugh said,"Perry's not going to have a choice but to change some of his views on immigration. The public's had enough and will demand that changes are made, that the border is secured."
As FEMA director, Mr. Allbaugh coordinated federal disaster-relief activities, including the response and recovery operations of 28 federal agencies and departments, as well as the American Red Cross. Additionally, he oversaw the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration, and initiated proactive mitigation activities to reduce loss of life and property from all types of hazards.
FEMA's annual budget at the time was about $3 billion, with 2,500 permanent federal employees and 4,500 temporary disaster-assistance employees.
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