In January 2004, President Bush proposed a sweeping new guest-worker and amnesty plan for illegal aliens. More than two years later, in June 2006, he announced a series of moves aimed at showing he was at long last getting serious about border security. Unfortunately, under his plan border security cannot even come close to reality until at least 2010. Congress should acknowledge this fact and postpone any immigration overhaul until border security is a reality, not another broken promise.
The president’s 2006 plan for border security had three parts. First, he announced he was sending 6,000 National Guard troops to the southwest border as an interim measure until the Border Patrol could recruit 6,000 additional agents, which was estimated to take three years. That was his second promise, to double the size of the Border Patrol by the end of his term by adding 6,000 new agents. The third pillar of his plan was announced by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff — the Secure Border Initiative, a multibillion-dollar project to build a high-tech “virtual fence” along the entire 1,900 miles of the southwest border.
All of these initiatives depend for their success on the rapid increase in Border Patrol manpower. The National Guard is restricted to “support functions,” and the Guard personnel manning lookout posts are limited to observing the illegal border jumpers and then reporting what they see to the Border Patrol. That’s it.
Skepticism is also justified when evaluating Mr. Chertoff’s expensive “virtual fence.” In April, the top commander of the Border Patrol, David Aguilar, proudly described the goals of the multibillion-dollar Secure Border Initiative. He proclaimed that when fully operational, “we will be able to identify, detect and classify more than 95 percent of illegal entries with the virtual fence.” Notice the absence of the words “stop” or “apprehend” in this description.
The most senior levels of Border Patrol management admit that even when the virtual fence is doing its job, it will not be stopping illegal entry into our country. It will allow us to “detect and classify” most of them better. Cameras, lights and sensors are great, but in the final analysis, Border Patrol agents must interdict the trespassers and detain them.
How well are plans progressing for having 18,000 Border Patrol agents by the end of 2008 as promised by Mr. Bush? The answer: It ain’t happening. The Border Patrol can hardly recruit and train new agents fast enough to replace the ones who are bailing out. The goal of 18,000 Border Patrol agents by the end of 2008 cannot and will not be achieved. When Mr. Aguilar or anyone else in the Homeland Security Department says otherwise, they are misleading the public and placing high hopes in the powers of the tooth fairy.
Why did attrition outpace recruitment over the past 12 months? The National Border Patrol Council blames politics for this situation and it has a good case. The Bush administration’s prosecution and imprisonment of two Border Patrol agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, for shooting a known drug smuggler is only the latest outrage among many that have decimated Border Patrol morale.
The policy significance of this failure is that it shows the hollowness of the president’s promise of border security. All of the president’s initiatives on border security depend on Border Patrol manpower. Proposals in Congress that assume border security as a precondition for new guest-worker programs need to be shelved until the goal of 18,000 Border Patrol agents has been achieved — which cannot occur before 2010.
Citizens are insisting that border security be demonstrated as an actual achievement, not simply a plan on Mr. Chertoff’s desk or a “trigger” in some legislative package. A new president and new Border Patrol leadership might salvage the morale and the mission of that law enforcement agency, but until that happens, the border will continue to be a sieve and our nation’s security will continue to be at risk.
Rep. Tom Tancredo is a member of both the House International Relations and Resources Committees and chairman of the bipartisan House Immigration reform Caucus.