- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Actions always speak louder than words, but if Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s words lead to action, then perhaps top Bush administration officials are starting to take the country’s immigration crisis seriously.

Responding on Monday to the state of emergency declared by the Arizona governor, Mr. Chertoff said, “We are moving forward quickly and aggressively to fashion a comprehensive plan with real solutions.” Last week, Gov. Janet Napolitano, following the lead of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, released $1.5 million in emergency funds to help stem the flood of illegal aliens into four border counties. Miss Napolitano is rightly indignant with the federal government’s inaction on the border, and it appears, if we take Mr. Chertoff at his word, that the attitude in Washington might be changing. Mr. Chertoff has also spoken with Mr. Richardson on increasing border security, as this newspaper’s Jerry Seper reported recently.

“We have established working groups with ardent goals and short deadlines to make recommendations for better enforcement strategies all across the operations spectrum,” Mr. Chertoff wrote to Miss Napolitano.

We can only speculate, but perhaps Mr. Chertoff’s — and the administration’s — change in attitude has something to do with an Aug. 22 memo sent to the secretary crediting Customs agents with blocking a Jordanian man from entering the country 20 months before he carried out a suicide bombing in Baghdad. The Jordanian, Ra’ed Mansour al Banna, attempted to gain entry to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on June 14, 2003. Although al Banna held a valid work visa, Customs agents denied him entry when they became suspicious of al Banna’s reason for entering the country. On Feb. 28, al Banna killed himself and 125 people in Hillah, Iraq, in one of deadliest suicide bombings of the war.

While the story of al Banna doesn’t exactly parallel the problem with the illegals, it does serve as a lesson in the dangers of open borders. How easy would it have been for al Banna to enter the country at the Mexico-Arizona border?

The DHS review Mr. Chertoff cited is expected to be released in the next several weeks, but spokesmen say it will recommend greater coordination between state and federal authorities. In addition, 350 Border Patrol agents have been reassigned to New Mexico, and DHS expects to add another 1,000 agents by next year. Though encouraging, these numbers are inadequate. It would require several thousand more agents (combined with sensors and perhaps fences and other structures) to meet the demands of securing the expansive border.

Regardless, these are hopeful signs. Since this page has been widely critical of the administration’s inaction on the border, we are gratified that senior officials are now speaking out. We look forward to the programmatic implementation of Mr. Chertoff’s words.

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