- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

President Bush identified border security as one of the key areas of homeland defense in his State of the Union address this week. So key, in fact, that his 2003 budget proposes to spend nearly $11 billion to deter those who would steal into the country by land, sea or air.

Much of that 25 percent increase in the overall border security budget is slated to go to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The agency is to bring a new entry-exit system online to track the arrival and departure of non-U.S. citizens.

"This new system will dramatically improve our ability to deny access to those individuals who should not enter the United States," the White House promises, "while speeding the entry of routine, legitimate traffic."

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush vows to round up non-U.S. citizens who entered the country legally, but who have overstayed their student, business or tourist visas.

"The INS estimates that 40 percent of people who are here illegally have overstayed their visas," the president noted in a speech last week in Portland, Maine. "And one of the things we want to make sure of is we find the 40 percent to make sure they're not part of some al Qaeda network that wants to hit the United States."

That's great as far as the president went.

But why stop at the 40 percent of illegals who've overstayed their visas? Why not go after the other 60 percent of illegals as well? The aliens who haven't overstayed visas because they never bothered to obtain them in the first place.

Yes, it is particularly frightening that there are some 115,000 foreign nationals from Middle Eastern countries residing in the United States illegally (or quasilegally, in the cases of those seeking refugee status or political asylum).

But the INS should not concentrate exclusively on the 115,000 illegals from that part of the world, while ignoring the other 8.6 million illegals who hail from countries outside the Middle East.

For illegal immigration, in sum, is a threat to this nation's security. Particularly considering the recent Census Bureau report revealing that the population of undocumented immigrants in this country more than doubled during the 1990s.

The explosion of illegal immigration is a result of the United States government looking the other way as millions of foreign aliens brazenly violated our immigration laws.

And, even now, the federal government is not talking about cracking down on all these foreign lawbreakers, but those who've overstayed their visas. And then, primarily, those who come from the Middle East.

There should be equal treatment of undocumented immigrants no matter what their country of origin. If a foreign national is in the United States unlawfully, he or she is a criminal. And the lawbreaker should be subject to deportation.

What we have now is government policy that tacitly decriminalizes illegal immigration, that actually rewards those who have infiltrated themselves within our borders (that is, unless they have the misfortune of being born in the Middle East).

Indeed, as recently as last summer, the president was hoping to offer amnesty the White House preferred the term "permanent legal status" to the 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States. The idea was scrapped after the September 11 terror attacks.

But that hasn't stopped states from moving forward with measures benefiting undocumented immigrants. Like the new California law that allows "undocumented" students to pay in-state fees at Cal State universities as well as state community colleges.

And just last month, the University of California regents voted to allow certain non-U.S. citizens to pay in-state tuition at the state's top universities.

So an undocumented immigrant who manages to enroll at one of the University of California's eight campuses would pay less than $4,000 a year in tuition. Yet, the son or daughter of one of the U.S. citizens who died at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon who enrolls at a University of California school would pay out-of-state tuition of roughly $15,000.

It doesn't make sense.

The president is talking about getting tough on immigrants in this country who overstay their visas. Meanwhile, California is getting soft on undocumented immigrants by offering them in-state college tuition rates.

So much for securing the homeland against foreign infiltrators.

Joseph Perkins is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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