Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus yesterday questioned the commitment of the nation’s border czar to track down and deport the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States, asking whether he had “any real interest” in getting the job done.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said he planned to talk with Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson “in the near future” to find out what the department plans to do to alleviate what the congressman called an “illegal immigration crisis.”

Mr. Tancredo’s comments came during a Capitol Hill press conference by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which called for stricter enforcement of visa waivers to combat terrorism, and were in response to an interview last week by Mr. Hutchinson with The Washington Times.

In the interview, Mr. Hutchinson said that it was “not realistic” to think that law-enforcement authorities can arrest or deport the millions of illegal aliens now in the United States, that it was “probably accurate” to say no one was looking for them, and that he did not think the American public had the “will … to uproot” those aliens.

“I think they have too much compassion to tell our law-enforcement people to go out there and uproot those 8 million here — some of whom might have been here 8 or 12 years, who got kids here that are American citizens — and to send them out of the country.” said Mr. Hutchinson, who heads border and transportation security.

Mr. Tancredo said Mr. Hutchinson said, in a message left with a staff aide, that he had been “misrepresented” in The Times article, and the three-term congressman said he was “anxious to discuss” the matter with Mr. Hutchinson.

“If the statements attributed to him are accurate, then this administration has got some major problems,” he said.

Neither Mr. Hutchinson nor his representatives have made any claims of misrepresentation to The Times concerning the luncheon interview, which was attended by editors and reporters and was recorded with Mr. Hutchinson’s agreement. A copy of the tape was sent to Mr. Hutchinson’s spokesman, Dennis Murphy, on Monday at his request.

Mr. Murphy did not return calls yesterday for further comment or elaboration.

At the press conference, Mr. Tancredo; Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican; and FAIR President Dan Stein criticized the nation’s immigration-enforcement efforts, saying thousands of illegal aliens were crossing into the United States daily.

“Our border is unprotected; our first line of defense is not manned,” Mr. Stein said. “After the attacks of September 11, there are no excuses. They want to pretend that we have a line of defense, even though we could secure the border if we wanted to. But we choose not to.”

Mr. Hutchinson was criticized last month when he sought to restrict the U.S. Border Patrol’s arrest of illegal aliens in the nation’s interior, saying he was concerned that the apprehension of 450 illegals by agents in inland areas of Southern California failed to consider the “sensitivities” of those detained.

The California arrests took place at public locations during a 19-day period. The aliens were taken into custody by a 12-member Border Patrol team based in Temecula, Calif., known as the Mobile Patrol Group, which since has been ordered to work highway checkpoints.

In a letter, Mr. Hutchinson assured Rep. Joe Baca, California Democrat, and other members of the state’s delegation who complained about the arrests that in the future, Homeland Security would enforce immigration laws “in a reasonable manner” and would consider the “sensitivities” surrounding the enforcement of those laws in its interior-enforcement program.

The California delegation had called the arrests racial profiling. In a statement, the delegation said Mr. Hutchinson “admitted” that the immigration sweeps should have been coordinated through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because most of the aliens involved had resided and worked in the United States for more than a year.

But ICE officials have said they have neither the manpower nor resources to detain the 8 million to 12 million illegals in the country, concentrating instead on 80,000 criminal aliens and 320,000 “absconders,” foreign nationals who were ordered deported but disappeared.

Mr. Hutchinson, in The Times interview, said there was widespread disagreement within the country on what to do about immigration enforcement and on how to handle the millions of illegal aliens, mostly Mexican nationals, in the United States. He questioned whether the matter had been debated sufficiently.

He also said the goal of his department was to gain operational control of the border, which included monitoring the ports of entry and the land areas between and responding in an effective manner.

“It doesn’t mean we build an Israel-type of fence. I don’t think we’re going to do that. I don’t think you want to have a strategy of a Border Patrol agent every 50 yards,” he said. “There’s a lot of compassion out there. You don’t send out a paddy wagon to round them up.”

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