- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Some members of Congress, concerned that top officials in the nation’s capital are unaware of the challenges state and local law-enforcement officials face in combating rising border crime, want Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to find “several million of dollars” to assist in border enforcement.

During a meeting this week in Washington with Mr. Chertoff and about two-dozen law-enforcement officers from Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers called for additional funding, with some House members saying they will push for a bill to authorize an additional $100 million for border enforcement.

“Whatever money is available, we’ve got to expedite that as soon as possible,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He said he is working with Texas Reps. John Culberson, a Republican, and Ciro D. Rodriguez, a Democrat, on the funding bill to be debated next month before a panel subcommittee.

Members of the Southwest Border Sheriff’s Coalition told Mr. Chertoff that increased funding was needed to confront rising border crime, the growing strength of cross-border gangs, and to deal with a flood of drug and alien smugglers. They said local taxpayers cannot afford the cost of border security, which they called the federal government’s responsibility.

“The border sheriffs are more than willing to step up, but they just need help as far as the tools and the revenue to fight this problem,” said Joe Pollock, president of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas. “Local taxpayers don’t have the money to afford it, the federal government does.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said the federal government had failed “for too long” to live up to its responsibilities to deal with border enforcement, adding that officials in the nation’s capital are a long way from the border and “frankly, don’t have a great understanding of the challenges” it involves. But, he said, several lawmakers are seeking “to find realistic solutions working across the aisle … to solve the problem.”

Mr. Chertoff called for a “partnership” among federal, state and local law-enforcement authorities, saying they “make sure we bring all the resources we have to deal with this very challenging problem,” but made no specific offer of money.

He said the federal government hoped to have a “strategic focus” on how resources are used to challenge border violence, drug trafficking and alien smuggling — part of a larger effort that includes 6,000 new U.S. Border Patrol agents, fences, virtual fencing, unmanned aerial systems, integrating ground-based radar, tower-based radar and a system of comprehensive surveillance and communication.

Mr. Chertoff tied that effort to making sure employers stop hiring illegal workers and to what he called a “humane, fair and reasonable solution” to the 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens already in the United States. He said the government needed to deal with “economic migrants … in a way that is fair, tough and reasonable” before it can focus on “the drug-dealers, the criminals and those who pose a threat to our homeland security.”

Congress remains divided over immigration reform proposals now being debated on Capitol Hill, including President Bush’s temporary guest-worker program, which has been described by some lawmakers and much of the public as an amnesty program.

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