- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 27, 2006

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is bringing the national issue of border security home to Maryland in fundraising brochures for his U.S. Senate campaign and on the hustings.

“We have to focus on what the American people want us to focus on,” Mr. Steele, a Republican, told The Washington Times. “In their hearts and their minds, they want to see the Senate and House come together on a strategy that incorporates personnel, technology and other resources to secure the border.

“I think that is an important first step before you move into anything else in the debate on immigration,” he said. “You have to start with the fundamental point that we have a porous border. Until you can control that, you can never deal successfully with the human element that is such an important part of what we need to face.”

None of the top Democratic candidates — Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, former congressman and former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader Kweisi Mfume and Bethesda millionaire Josh Rales — list on their campaign Web sites border security or immigration as a priority issue. Mr. Mfume’s site is the only one to mention border protection, which he delineates as a facet of homeland security. The Cardin and Rales campaigns did not return calls seeking comment.

Mr. Steele devotes a page to the immigration topic on his campaign Web site, which advocates “immediate steps to secure our borders” before addressing illegal aliens or the businesses that employ them.

He also cites the border-security issue in his latest fundraising letter.

“I know what needs to be done in Washington,” he says in the letter. “We need to make a commitment to strong family values, and we must secure our borders today so every American citizen is safe in their own community.”

Mr. Steele told The Times on Thursday that he think it is “a message that resonates with every Marylander — Democrat, Republican, independent, whatever.”

Polls show Americans are divided on immigration reforms such as guest-worker programs and citizenship programs for illegal aliens, but most voters support measures to tighten border security.

In Maryland, 71 percent of voters say government policy should focus on securing the country’s borders and enforcing existing immigration law before attending to further reforms, according to a recent poll by Rasmussen Reports.

President Bush is pressing Congress to pass immigration reforms that include the guest-worker program and a citizenship process for illegal aliens. But lawmakers hit an impasse with the House backing tighter border security and the Senate favoring more lenient immigration policies.

The president has tried to allay concerns by ordering National Guard troops to help the Border Patrol and promising to crack down on businesses that hire illegal aliens.

Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman, has voted 14 times against and two times for enhanced border security since 2000. Last year, he voted against the bill that called for a 700-mile fence on the southern border.

His campaign Web site presents position papers on 12 issues including health care, the war in Iraq, government ethics and human rights, but not immigration or border security. The position paper on homeland security stresses Maryland’s proximity to the District and the need for improved security at ports.

Mr. Rales’ campaign Web site also excludes the issue.

His statement on the “threats and realities of the 21st Century” does not mention border security but calls for bringing troops back from Iraq and “reallocating resources to fighting the war on terror and defending our homeland.”

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