Monday, April 3, 2006

As the debate over America’s illegal immigration policy heats up, what gets lost in all the emotion and rhetoric is that H.R. 4437 is not “simply” an illegal immigration bill. It is the Border Protection, AntiterrorismandIllegal Immigration Control Act of 2005.

The key words being “border protection.” America’s borders are a mess and are urgently in need of a policy which is not only coherent, but also equips those entrusted to protect our borders with the proper tools and manpower needed to do so. While illegal immigration may be on everyone’s mind now, border protection will be the hot-button issue heading into the 2006 congressional campaign.

The public is only now beginning to get a firsthand glimpse into the true seriousness of the problem. First, we were treated to the Dubai port debacle and the casual process with which the administration awarded our nation’s port contracts to an Arab-based company. Then, it was revealed that undercover federal investigators, while carrying radioactive material, needed only Internet and desktop publishing software to fake documents that allowed them to cross in to the United States from both the Canadian and Mexican borders. Using fake documents, investigators made their way past U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents.

In San Diego, where I live, eight tunnels have been discovered underneath the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks. Tunnels used for smuggling who knows what? Notice I said “tunnels have been discovered,” not the people who dug them.

Meanwhile, there is an increasingly dangerous war, one that has already begun to spill over in to the United States, that is being fought right now along the Mexican side of the border.

In the border town of Nuevo Laredo Mexico drug killings are on the rise, grenades are being used to attack media outlets and United States officials are concerned that the violence is crossing into the United States. Assaults on Border Patrol agents are up an astounding 108 percent.

It should come as a surprise to no one that the Mexican government cannot be relied upon to secure the problem on its side of the border.

Less than a year after the Mexican government confidently launched Operation Secure Mexico, an elite military-style campaign targeted at reducing drug violence along the U.S. border, the operation today is in complete and total disarray. The anti-drug forces have been infiltrated by members of drug cartels, federal police agents have been boldly gunned downed and murdered in the town’s streets during broad daylight and the man in charge of the entire operation, Gen. Alvaro Moreno, is missing.

Mexico City spokesman Eloy Caloca said, “I couldn’t tell you where he is” when asked of the whereabouts of Gen. Moreno. When asked who is in charge now that the general is missing, Mr. Caloca said: “I don’t have his name right now.”

“It’s clear that the [Mexican] government does not have the capacity to stop this wave of violence,” said Jorge Chabat, a specialist in U.S.-Mexico relations and border security.

What is both puzzling and troublesome at the same time is the relationship, which the Bush administration maintains with the very men and women working to protect our borders. Our nation’s Border Patrol agents feel overwhelmed, underappreciated and lacking in manpower.

T.J. Bonner, the president of the union that represents America’s Border Patrol agents, had this to say last week while appearing on my talk-radio show in San Diego: “In my 28 years as a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, I have never seen the morale among agents any lower than it is right now. Never.”

So while people march in the streets and protest over illegal immigration policy, let’s remember that 1,900 miles of vulnerability is too many miles and too many American lives to ignore. Or so Congress would have you think, since their silence is as deafening as the voices of the victims from the Twin Towers.

Rick Amato is a talk radio show host and political commentator on KCBQ in San Diego.

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