- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

President Bush’s speech Monday night was the first by a president to take some noteworthy steps to fulfill his oath to “ensure that the laws are faithfully executed.” But, no mistakes can be made here. The American people are engaged, alert and dubious.

They have called for an immigration system where laws are enforced for decades, and no president has paid the slightest attention. Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush have talked the game but have never made any serious efforts to ensure enforcement. Many blame Congress, and Congress certainly deserves blame. But it is the president — the executive branch — that must enforce laws, not Congress.

In fact, on several occasions, Congress has passed laws and added funding for better immigration enforcement above the president’s requests. Changing laws and spending more money for enforcement will never work unless the branch of the government that is charged with law enforcement wants to enforce the laws.

No president in recent memory has ever demonstrated a will to see that our border and workplace laws are enforced — and, as a result, they have not been.

I am happy to see Mr. Bush go beyond talk and take some action. But a few steps, including calling out the National Guard, significant though they may be, will not change the pervasive illegality of our current immigration system to one that works. And the American people know it. Quite apart from the need to deal fairly and generously with the 11 million that have come and lived here for a significant period, we must confront the continued flow of more illegals into the country.

To do that, the president must assemble his top law enforcement officers, prosecutors and budget experts and tell them with clarity that it is now his policy to stop further illegal immigration into our country. He must tell them to review their policies and to promptly report to him the funds, personnel and equipment that each agency needs to make this happen. He must present proposals to Congress to close the loopholes that exist in current law.

Specifically, these are some of the essential steps that must be taken to create a system of immigration that works and where the law is honored:

1. A significant increase in short-term detention space.Without detention space, the law enforcement officer who apprehends a lawbreaker has his work completely negated.The good news is that as border enforcement improves and as “catch and release” ends, the word will spread and fewer will try to come illegally and thus have to be detained. But more bed spaces are needed now.

2. Expanding border fencing and barriers is essential. This too will send a message to the world that we are serious about enforcement. Again, this clear message will result in fewer attempted crossings and reduced arrests. Indeed, Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff recently told some senators that he favors 350 miles of new fencing plus 500 miles of vehicle barriers.A clear statement of affirmation of this policy by the president and immediate commencement of construction is needed.

3. The U.S. VISIT system that was authorized 10 years ago is not complete and far behind schedule. U.S. VISIT will record the entry and exit of everyone who enters or departs the United States. This system will be the cornerstone of any effective enforcement policy. The president must demand prompt completion of U.S. VISIT. Nothing will work without it. The delays are inexcusable.

4. We must create a workplace verification system that every employer can access to verify the legal status of potential employees. We now only have a “basic pilot program.” The full, effective operation of a workplace verification system is required for workplace enforcement. Employers must be told exactly what is required of them as they hire. We cannot wait.

5. In addition to utilizing the National Guard at the border, the president needs to call on the 700,000 state and local law enforcement officers to be the eyes and ears of immigration law enforcement. There are now fewer than 20,000 federal immigration enforcement officers. When state and local officers apprehend illegals in the course of their work and call on federal enforcement officers, federal immigration law enforcement must respond to them. The president must lead on this issue. It is so bad now that state and local officers don’t even bother to call.

Each of these steps is essential for any sound immigration system to work. They can be started now. They can be completed quickly. While they will cost money, they are affordable. If the president finds that more money, personnel, legal authority and equipment are needed, requests should be made to Congress at once.

Mr. Bush is a strong leader. When he wants something done in a hurry, he can get it done. He should be congratulated for taking some important steps to end the lawlessness of immigration. But, unless he promptly acts to jump-start these stalled initiatives, we are in for more of the same.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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