- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

The nation’s border czar says a “full-court press” is necessary to stop terrorists, foreign nationals and drug smugglers from illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, saying the United States is a sovereign nation and ought to control its own border.

“We know how many illegal aliens and drug smugglers are being caught and where, so the question is not how many did we catch, but how can we do a better job.” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

“The potential for terrorists is not only that they might try again to enter the United States, but that they have seriously considered doing so through Mexico to carry out new terrorist strikes,” he said. “It is important we show that we can control our border.”

A former federal judge and former head of the U.S. Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mr. Bonner took over CBP with the March 2003 creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

He said he wants not just more “boots on the ground” to bring operational control to the border, but “a better use of technology to gain control of our border.”

“Controlling the Arizona border is not just about Arizona,” he said. “Illegal immigration and drug smuggling, plus the potential for terrorists, affects every one of the nation’s Border Patrol sectors.”

To control the border, Mr. Border acknowledged that the nation must increase the level of enforcement activity by substantially increasing the resources available to the Border Patrol to get the job done, pursuing a strategy of mobility and rapid response to intrusion across the borders and securing the ports of entry against illegal penetration.

The effort must include, Mr. Bonner said, a “defense-in-depth” strategy, meaning that enforcement efforts cannot be limited to the border, but must include interior checkpoints and interdiction at transit locations, including airports.

“The fact that someone has gotten across the border does not mean he’s home free,” he said. “Our enforcement efforts are a full-court press. Illegal aliens and their smugglers will have to run a gantlet. The border line is just the beginning of that gantlet.”

“I am confident we have a sound strategy and a good operational plan, and that we will take control of our border,” he said. “As a sovereign nation, control of our border has always been important. In the post-September 11 world, it is essential.

The CBP boss was the force behind recent efforts by Homeland Security to strengthen the southwestern border, advocating for an increase in both the number of Border Patrol agents and aircraft to gain operational control of the Arizona border, where more than half of the 1.15 million illegal aliens apprehended last year were caught — about 1,600 a day.

The Arizona Border Control initiative, begun in March 2004, sought to deter terrorists and their weapons of mass destruction, control illicit border crossings, impair the ability of the smuggling organizations to operate and decrease the exploding rate of violent crime along the border.

More than 200 experienced Border Patrol agents were reassigned to the area, bringing to 2,000 the number of agents stationed along the 370-mile Arizona border. In addition, 60 agents specially trained in search, rescue and remote tactical operations were deployed.

Mr. Bonner assigned four more helicopters to assist in the Arizona operation and ordered CBP’s Air and Marine Operations and the Border Patrol to use other aircraft to rapidly transport search, rescue and enforcement personnel to remote areas of the Arizona desert. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles also were put into use along the border.

The second phase of the operation, which began this past March, saw the deployment of an additional 155 experienced Border Patrol agents to Arizona, with 379 trainees to be added in the next year. In the interim, 200 agents were assigned temporarily to the Tucson sector, the busiest alien-smuggling corridor in the country.

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