- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that decades of immigration missteps must end and that illegal aliens now are returned quickly to their native countries instead of being detained for long periods.

“Let’s not kid ourselves; we’ve been digging ourselves into this hole for over 20 years,” Mr. Chertoff said.

“Right now we’re facing a huge challenge at the border with illegal migration. We can’t afford to turn away from it, and we can’t afford simply to use techniques that haven’t worked.”

Returning illegal aliens quickly to their native countries rather than detaining them for months will change their mind-set that U.S. laws can be skirted easily, Mr. Chertoff said.

“The president’s made it very clear that has to be our mission: securing the border and addressing illegal migration. They will come to realize that when they cross the border illegally, they will be caught and sent home again.”

Mr. Chertoff said more than 1 million foreigners have been caught entering the country illegally at the border and that immigration agents arrested 1,600 gang suspects and helped convict 1,300 human traffickers and 5,700 human smugglers this year.

The secretary presented his address on this year’s accomplishments and future challenges before an audience at George Washington University.

“I don’t think it’s a revelation for me to say that for the Department of Homeland Security, 2005 was a year of change and challenge,” said Mr. Chertoff, noting the “unprecedented and devastating hurricanes that stretched our existing capabilities beyond the breaking point.”

He cited the bravery of Coast Guard teams that rescued 33,000 people from floodwaters after deadly hurricanes, but acknowledged government failure in key areas such as preparedness.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency “faces tough times” and will be “radically retooled” to deal with catastrophic events, he said.

He defended his agency’s decision to allow certain small tools and scissors aboard aircraft even though the September 11 hijackers took control of the planes with box cutters. All airplanes have reinforced cockpit doors, and thousands are protected by federal air marshals and armed pilots.

Homeland Security Department officials re-evaluate policies constantly to avoid “mission creep” and to help ease the burden of travel, Mr. Chertoff said.

“I’m not going to lay the heavy hand of the government on, just to lay on the heavy hand of the government,” he said.

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