Thursday, June 12, 2008

The open borders of the United States amount to a national security exposure. This is a fact that cannot be debated.

One has only to look at the number of foreign nationals attempting to illegally enter the U.S. through Mexico over the last several years.

Since 2005, the Department of Homeland Security reports that more than 331,000 people from countries other than Mexico have been apprehended trying to cross the Southern land border. These individuals came from virtually every country in the world, including some with whom we have an adversarial relationship, such as Communist China, Iran and North Korea.

These apprehensions as well as the approximate 3.1 million border arrests over the same period are the result of a U.S.-Mexico border that has been left wide open and largely unprotected against illegal entry. This vulnerability continues to be exploited by migrants and smugglers everyday and, until our borders are secure, we must anticipate that terrorists may eventually try entering the U.S. the same way.

In 2005, when testifying before Congress, then-Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security James Loy confirmed the seriousness of this threat. According to Mr. Loy, “Al Qaeda leaders believe operatives can pay their way into the country through Mexico and also believe illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons.” He also added that intelligence “strongly suggests” terrorists have considered entering the United States through Mexico.

That same year, while visiting Mexico City, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “We are quite aware that terrorists will try very hard” to use the border with Mexico to enter the United States. Miss Rice also acknowledged the fact that terrorists will continue trying to infiltrate the United States this way, and thus “we need to make certain that we keep working on this issue.” I could not agree more. The threat created by our open borders, as well as many of the other problems that are attributable to illegal immigration, will only intensify until this exposure is closed.

While we have made some progress in recent years toward creating a more enforceable border, we still have a lot of work left to do. Moving forward, we must continue strengthening security through manpower, technology and infrastructure, including the most reliable and effective enforcement tool so far: border security fencing.

Much like many other areas of the border today, the land corridor that once existed between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, Calif., was for many years considered to be the most prolific and dangerous smuggling route in the nation. It was not until I wrote into law the construction of a double border fence that the drug smugglers and armed gangs lost control of this corridor and conditions on both sides of the border started to improve.

Since construction of the San Diego border fence started in 1996, the smuggling of people and narcotics in this area has decreased by more than 90 percent. Violent crime is down by 53 percent, according to FBI statistics, and vehicle drug drive-throughs have been eliminated altogether. There are also significantly fewer apprehensions in the San Diego sector due to fewer crossing attempts.

In Yuma, Ariz., where almost 30 miles of fencing has been completed to date, there have been similar results. In 2006, before the start of fence construction, there were 119,000 apprehensions in this sector. By the next year, once fence construction started, there were 81,000 fewer arrests.

Homeland Security is rightly building fence at other points along the border and reports it is on course to complete 370 miles by the end of this year. Given the effectiveness of fencing, as demonstrated in San Diego and Yuma, it is in our national interest to extend this infrastructure to other smuggling routes and heavily traveled areas of the border.

Our nation’s security largely rests on the security of our borders. We know what we need to do. All we have to do is act.

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California is the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

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