- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

Failure to hire the new U.S. Border Patrol agents sought in last year’s intelligence overhaul bill would leave the United States vulnerable to terrorism at a time when illegal immigration from suspect countries is increasing, a member of Congress said yesterday.

“The southern border is literally under siege, and there is a real possibility that terrorists — particularly al Qaeda forces — could exploit this series of holes in our law-enforcement system along the southern border,” said Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas Democrat, testifying before the House immigration subcommittee.

Mr. Ortiz said that is particularly worrisome given the increase in “other than Mexicans,” or OTMs, which is how border and immigration law-enforcement agencies refer to illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico.

While Mexicans routinely are sent back across the border, non-Mexicans are processed and then, if no criminal record or terrorist background immediately is discovered, usually released in the United States under their promise to return for a deportation hearing.

Most never show up, witnesses testified yesterday.

“The more OTMs we release, the more we encourage their crossing in the first place,” Mr. Ortiz said. “Until we have the resources we need — the border patrol agents, the detention facilities and the appropriate technology — to accurately screen these immigrants, they are going to continue to enter the country.”

Mr. Ortiz said about 5 percent of captured illegal immigrants in fiscal year 2003 were OTMs, and there has been a 137 percent increase in OTMs this fiscal year.

Republicans and Democrats have assailed President Bush’s budget request for funding only 210 new border patrol agents in fiscal year 2006, far short of the 2,000 agents called for in the intelligence overhaul bill Mr. Bush signed into law in December.

The budget also falls short of the 8,000 new detention beds called for, which Mr. Ortiz and other witnesses said are necessary to hold OTMs rather than release them into the general population.

Mr. Ortiz, a former sheriff in south Texas, said he wants to see Congress include full funding for the border patrol agents and detention beds in the emergency spending bill to fund the war in Iraq that now is pending.

“With this coming supplemental, I hope we can join together to correct what we can correct,” he said.

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said that by his reading Mr. Bush’s proposed budget actually funds only 105 agents. He said while there’s enough money to cover 210 positions, the budget document itself calls for only 105 full-time positions.

“It’s a shell game, is all it is,” he said.

Asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, the top Democrat on the committee, what the lack of funding would mean, Mr. Bonner said it was “just asking for another 9-11.”

“We are just sticking our chin out and asking the terrorists to take a poke at us,” he said.

The committee also heard from Robert Eggle, father of Kris Eggle, a National Park Service Ranger who was killed in 2003 while chasing a Mexican drug-cartel hit squad that had fled across the U.S. border.

“My son was murdered while defending our border because there was an inadequate number of border patrolmen,” Mr. Eggle said, adding that he was “outraged” that no federal official ever expressed anger that “a Mexican crime spillover” could lead to the slaying of a U.S. law-enforcement officer.

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