Thursday, September 9, 2004

The nation’s border czar yesterday said it is “not realistic” to think that law-enforcement authorities can arrest or deport the millions of illegal aliens now in the United States and does not think the American public has the “will … to uproot” those aliens.

Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson also said taxpayers “might be afraid” to learn how much it would take in manpower and resources to control the nation’s borders and described as “probably accurate” a statement that no law-enforcement officials are looking for the vast majority of the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens thought to be in the country.

“It’s not realistic to say we’re going to reduce that number,” Mr. Hutchinson said during a luncheon meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “We don’t set goals like that. Our goal is to enforce the law as we see violations of the law.

“But I don’t think America has the will,” he added. “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.”Mr. Hutchinson, who leads the nation’s border and transportation security agencies, said although securing the nation’s borders against terrorists, illegal aliens, smugglers and others who pose a threat is his top priority, the department is attempting to do so by laying “a foundation” for a strategy that can be “reasonably considered.”

He said there is 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.

“I don’t know that we’ve arrived at a consensus and, sure, that makes a difference,” he said. “You can define that as political will. You also can describe it in terms of whether we’ve debated it sufficiently and drawn our thoughts together.”

Mr. Hutchinson, who said he did not know how many illegal aliens entered the country annually, said the goal of his department is to gain operational control of the border, which includes 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.”

Most Americans adamantly oppose increasing the amount of legal immigration to the United States and legalizing those immigrants here illegally. On no other foreign-policy issue do average Americans disagree more with government and business leaders and other “elites” than on immigration.

But Mr. Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, said although there is “strong support” nationwide for the enforcement of immigration laws and the public expects it to be accomplished, “they expect us to do it in a way consistent with our values.”

“Immigration has provided vitality to the growth of the country,” he said. “We ought to recognize that, and that’s an important principle in the development of our immigration policy. We have to be able to assimilate or integrate immigrants into our society where they can become Americans.

“That is what America historically has done very well, and we don’t want to lose that capacity,” he said.

Mr. Hutchinson said President Bush’s proposal for a temporary guest-worker program, outlined in January, was an attempt by the administration to address immigration enforcement and to “bring 8 million aliens out of the shadow and give them legal status.”

The Bush plan, which has not been offered as legislation, would allow illegal aliens in the country to remain if they have jobs and apply as guest workers. The aliens could stay for an undetermined number of renewable three-year periods, after which they could seek permanent legal status.

The proposal has been met with criticism from law-enforcement authorities and has been challenged by both Republicans and Democrats. Some have called the plan an amnesty program that invites aliens in this country illegally to gain perpetual legal status. Others said it was unpractical and could become a scheme to identify illegal aliens and deport them.

Last month, Mr. Hutchinson outlined a number of incentives to encourage aliens to support the plan, including provisions freeing them from arrest and deportation, giving them access to tax-deferred savings accounts and Social Security credits and allowing them unrestricted travel to and from their home countries.

Yesterday, Mr. Hutchinson said the incentives were designed to encourage the aliens to return to their home countries eventually, although he said he doubted that the matter would be brought before Congress before the November presidential elections.

Mr. Hutchinson also confirmed that a newly trained 12-member Border Patrol team based in Temecula, Calif., known as the Mobile Patrol Group, had been reassigned to enforce areas around highway checkpoints near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The team had been criticized by Democrats and immigrant rights advocates for racial profiling after it arrested 450 illegal aliens during a 19-day period in California’s inland areas, all less than 100 miles from the border. At the time, Mr. Hutchinson told lawmakers that the team had failed to consider the “sensitivities” of those detained.

Yesterday, he said the responsibility for interior enforcement belonged not to the Border Patrol, a part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), both agencies that he oversees.

“Whenever you’re in a war and whenever you’ve got troops on the ground, the troops have to act not in a way they think is a good idea, they have to work in a way that’s in accordance with strategy,” he said.

ICE officials have acknowledged that they have neither the manpower nor the resources to carry out an extensive interior-enforcement program. It has committed the 2,300 agents it has to hunt down illegal aliens to finding 80,000 criminal aliens and 320,000 “absconders,” those who fled after being ordered deported.

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