- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Conservative lawmakers called on President Bush to deploy thousands of troops along U.S. borders, saying the homeland security plan that the White House delivered yesterday to Congress would take years to crack down on illegal immigration.
"Our nation's border security is our homeland's Achilles' heel," said Rep. Jim Ramstad, Minnesota Republican. "This situation must be corrected immediately if we're serious about preventing terrorism."
The White House sent to Congress its plan to reorganize homeland security agencies into a Cabinet-level department, which officials said might have headquarters outside Washington for security reasons. Congressional leaders said they hoped to approve the plan by Sept. 11.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge called approval of the department "the next critical step" in the war against terrorism.
"All of us have been given an awesome responsibility the responsibility to protect Americans and the American way of life while they're under attack from a shadow enemy, an unseen, coldblooded enemy," Mr. Ridge said.
The administration placed about 1,100 National Guardsmen on the borders with Canada and Mexico after September 11, but those deployments were to end this summer. Several lawmakers said Mr. Ridge told them in a closed briefing last week that the White House opposed stationing troops on the borders for "cultural and historical" reasons.
"I want an explanation of these 'cultural and historical' reasons why we can't protect our nation's borders," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the congressional immigration reform caucus. "It's time to authorize the deployment of troops on our borders."
In an interview with The Washington Times editorial board in April, Mr. Tancredo criticized Mr. Bush for his "open door" immigration policy and said the president was risking further terrorist attacks. His comments led to a confrontation in which top presidential adviser Karl Rove warned Mr. Tancredo not to "darken the door" of the White House.
Lawmakers cited a report by the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington saying that more than 481,000 immigrants had entered the United States illegally since September 11.
"This continuing influx of illegal immigrants must stop immediately to prevent terrorists from entering our country unabated," Mr. Ramstad said. "There simply aren't enough border patrol and customs agents to do the job."
In a petition to the president, Mr. Tancredo's group said the post-Civil War Posse Comitatus Act and later congressional provisions allowed the president to deploy the military to help enforce state and federal laws. As of yesterday, only a half-dozen House members had signed the petition.
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey said the Texas Republican believes the United States must do a better job of stopping illegal immigration. But spokesman Greg Crist said Mr. Armey thinks a proposed restructuring of the Immigration and Naturalization Service "will give agents the tools they need" to improve border security.
The INS, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Customs Service would fall under the new Department of Homeland Security. But Mr. Tancredo and his colleagues say it will take at least two years to beef up border security even after Congress approves the plan.
"Here we are nine months after September 11, and the borders are no more secure today than they were on the day of that infamous event," Mr. Tancredo said. "We need help on our borders."
William King, a retired chief Border Patrol agent, estimated that it would take up to 20,000 troops to secure the borders adequately. He said the administration has a duty to "take care of Americans first."
"What's mind-blowing to me is that many of our troops are currently guarding borders and protecting the sovereignty of other nations while our own borders are incredibly in total disarray, wide open to any criminal activity imaginable," Mr. King said. "I challenge anybody in our government today to tell us where else they can find the personnel and the resources necessary to protecting our borders without going to the military."
Mr. King said 142 Border Patrol agents resigned in a recent two-week period, many of them opting for higher salaries in the federal sky-marshal program.
A provision attached to the defense authorization bill in the House by Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., Virginia independent, would let agency heads request troops for border security from the defense secretary. Mr. Goode said his provision has no Senate sponsor but said he is optimistic that it will be included in a House-Senate conference.
The legislation for the Department of Homeland Security also proposes that the new department take control of visa policy and provides the framework for the department to receive intelligence information on terrorism threats.
Mr. Armey, chairman of a special committee designed to guide the legislation through the House, said lawmakers are likely to put off questions about committee jurisdiction until the next session of Congress.
"You need to stay focused on the task," Mr. Armey said. "The main thing is to create the new secretary."


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