- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

The U.S. Border Patrol increased at a faster rate and apprehended more illegal aliens per year under President Clinton than under President Bush, according to statistics from a new, unpublished congressional research briefing report.

Mr. Bush trails his predecessor on a series of measures of border security, says the briefing from the Congressional Research Service to the House Judiciary Committee, which was based on Department of Homeland Security data.

Mr. Clinton increased the number of Border Patrol agents and pilots by 126 percent over his eight-year term, or an average of 642 per year, while Mr. Bush has averaged 411 new agents per year through 2005, for a total increase of 22.3 percent over his tenure.

Although Mr. Bush last week said his administration has caught and returned 6 million illegal aliens, that’s actually a drop from any five-year period during Mr. Clinton’s administration, the briefing says.

Meanwhile, the number of alien absconders has grown by more than 200,000 during Mr. Bush’s term, reaching 536,644 in fiscal 2005; the number of completed fraud cases has dropped; and, until recently, detention beds hovered at or below the level Mr. Bush inherited from Mr. Clinton in 2001.

“The sense of urgency that comes with deploying the National Guard is belied by the administration’s consistent opposition to providing the necessary resources that our border security agencies need to do their jobs,” said Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Byrd has sought for years to get the Bush administration to add Border Patrol agents and detention beds and improve enforcement technology.

Bush administration officials say they are looking for ways to work more efficiently.

“It’s always been a serious matter, and certainly since 9/11, we’ve been serious about border security,” said Jarrod Agen, deputy press secretary at the Deparnt of Homeland Security.

“I would say we’ve looked at changing our approach and looking at this new approach, it’s learning from ways that didn’t work in the past, and it’s integrating systems that hadn’t been looked at in the past and looking at all the problems across the board and seeing how they can be incorporated together,” he said.

He also said to look beyond the percentage increases and at the actual numbers. Although Mr. Bush has increased the Border Patrol by 3,000 through the first five years, last week he proposed adding 6,000 agents to reach 18,000 by 2008. And the administration has made measurable progress in the last year, he said, particularly on returning “other-than-Mexican,” or OTM, illegal aliens back home.

The average amount of time that OTMs spend in detention facilities has fallen from 66 days to 21 days in the past year. The shorter time means that more people can be held and that fewer have to be released into the population on usually futile hope they will return to be deported.

In a recent speech, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove said that during the week of April 10, 2,100 OTMs were apprehended, of which 1,300 were immediately returned and 830 were released. Of those 830, 700 were Salvadorans, who are required to be released because of a court decision — something the administration says it is working to change.

Mr. Bush is pressing for Congress to send him a broad immigration bill that includes a solution to the current illegal alien problem and a new program for future foreign workers. But he has to overcome objections of conservatives, especially in the House, who say the first job is to control the U.S. borders.

“I support all of the additions the president is making as far as National Guard, Border Patrol and technology,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King, New York Republican. “Having said that, granting legalization or amnesty would undo much of that. So on balance, it’s a much worse [proposal], because whatever additional security we would gain through additional personnel, we would lose that amount of security by legalizing the illegals.”

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said Border Patrol staffing and spending has increased dramatically, but because of “insane policies” that tie agents’ hands, they are apprehending fewer illegals. In 1987, each agent averaged 357 apprehensions, but that fell to 110 per agent in 2004, he said.

In addition, while the number of aliens being smuggled by criminal organizations has gone up, the number of smugglers being prosecuted is about the same.

But Mr. Bonner said Mr. Bush is no worse than other presidents before him, and he credited Congress with the Border Patrol increases in the 1990s.

“As far back as my career goes, there has never been a president — and I’ve been around 28 years — who was serious about securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration,” he said.

Bush spokesman Tony Snow last week said the president’s proposal to use the National Guard and increase Border Patrol agents means “the president is actually taking a more aggressive approach on border security than the House of Representative itself took.”

House Republicans, though, said that they worked within the budget constraints the White House gave them and that if the president had told them he would find more money, they would have done more.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, questioned Mr. Bush’s commitment to border security, saying the president had to be pulled “kicking and screaming” to go along with earlier border-security measures. He said he thinks Mr. Bush will say anything to win a guest-worker program.

“I’m sorry to say this, but he is not sincere about his desire to secure the border,” the Colorado Republican said. “He is sincere in his desire to get an amnesty that will pass, and he will essentially do a Clinton on us — say anything, promise anything — but I’m afraid I just don’t trust him anymore.”

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