- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department has been criticized for inadequate immigration-enforcement efforts, yesterday announced an initiative to better secure America’s borders and reduce illegal immigration.

Speaking in Houston after a Tuesday night tour of the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso, Texas, Mr. Chertoff called the plan — known as the Secure Border Initiative — a “vision forward to gain operational control of our borders.”

He said the initiative would focus on all aspects of illegal immigration, including deterrence, detection, apprehension, detention and removal.

As part of the plan, the department will hire 1,500 agents to augment a Border Patrol force of 11,000 and add 250 criminal investigators to the 2,000 who are assigned to target alien smuggling organizations and other criminal groups.

Mr. Chertoff said increased interdiction would have a “strong and unequivocal deterrent effect” on others seeking to cross illegally into the United States.

But T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents the 10,000 nonsupervisory personnel at the agency, said he was “underwhelmed” by the proposal.

“This is just a perpetuation of the same failed policies that have led us to the mess we’re in right now — a border that is out of control,” Mr. Bonner said.

“We have to make it easy for employers to know who has the right to work and painful for those who do not comply,” he said, calling for passage of a bill pending in Congress that would close the loopholes used by employers of illegal aliens by requiring them to verify immigration status before employment.

“Mr. Chertoff should take a lead from [Democratic strategist] James Carville. … ‘It’s jobs, stupid,’” he said. “That should be the guiding principle for controlling the crisis at the border.”

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, called the initiative a “step in the right direction” but said the department had to implement it in order for it to work.

“We have heard plans from DHS before, yet seen few results,” Mr. Kolbe said.

Mr. Chertoff’s escorted tour of the border took place just a day after more than 4,500 civilian volunteers ended a 30-day border vigil, during which they set up observation posts and foot-and-horseback patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border from Texas to California to protest the government’s perceived lax immigration-enforcement policies.

He said he was not aware of the Minuteman efforts, but that the job of protecting the border should be left to trained law-enforcement authorities.

Mr. Chertoff noted that the nation could not have an effective border- or interior-enforcement strategy without an efficient detention-and-removal system. He said the release of non-Mexicans apprehended at the border because of a lack of detention space had to end.

“In fiscal 2005, the Border Patrol apprehended about 160,000 non-Mexican illegal aliens along the Southwest border. Because of strained capacity and inefficiencies in the removal process, 120,000 of these aliens were released with a notice to appear at court in the future,” he said. “This ‘catch and release’ process must change, and it will.”

Mr. Chertoff also said the initiative will strengthen interior-enforcement efforts to uphold the rule of law and punish illegal workers and their employers.

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