The greatest challenge for reporters covering immigration is grappling with the many facets of the issue. In working the immigration beat, a reporter addresses economics, national security, tax policy, education, health care, the environment, law enforcement, foreign policy, and more.
A reporter needs at least a passing familiarity with all these in order to successfully digest and translate immigration-related developments for the reader. And we've seen a lot of immigration news over the past year: Continuing difficulties in the Department of Homeland Security, the McCain/Kennedy amnesty proposal, Proposition 200 and then the Minuteman Project border watch effort in Arizona, the Mexican government's increasingly aggressive efforts to direct U.S. immigration policy, the spread of super-violent Latin American gangs into every corner of our country, and much more.
How does a newspaper go about covering all this? By finding a dogged, committed reporter and giving him the resources and leeway he needs to shed light on the many dark recesses of the issue. Today we honor just such a reporter -- Jerry Seper, immigration reporter for The Washington Times, recipient of the 2005 Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration.
Rare is the day that the Times doesn't publish an A-section story on immigration. And on a good many days there are three of them. As the anchor of the Times' immigration coverage, Mr. Seper has filed hundreds of stories since taking over the immigration beat -- stories consistently placing issues in a broader policy context, rather than taking the easy route of trite human-interest features or regurgitated legislative arcana.
Mr. Seper's, and the Times', commitment to coverage of immigration beyond the Beltway is illustrated most plainly by the travels demanded of him on the beat. Over the past two years he has spent months traveling the northern and southern border states pursuing stories of real Americans on the receiving end of our dysfunctional immigration system.
We've been impressed particularly by the varied lenses through which Mr. Seper's reporting illuminates immigration's contemporary conditions: In the same week that we read of Arizona residents protesting the lawlessness enveloping their state by passing Proposition 200, Washington-area residents learned of the appalling violence perpetrated with increasing frequency locally by MS-13. There is a big-picture portrait Mr. Seper offers readers, and it's very much in the public interest.
The sample stories reprinted in this booklet are intended to illustrate not only Mr. Seper's merits in conveying the substance and context of developments on the immigration beat, but also to showcase the sheer breadth of American domestic life dramatically impacted by immigration policy.
It bears mentioning that 2004 represented a year of extraordinary reporting on immigration by news organizations large and small across the country. Mr. Seper's work in our judgment is the standard bearer for this excellent work, but we'd be remiss in failing to identify a few of the other notable chroniclers. Last year's Katz award recipient, CNN's Lou Dobbs, remains committed to exploring the issue's troubling developments, every weeknight in his "Broken Borders" segments. And Time Magazine last September published a sweeping cover-story overview of our immigration crisis, assigning its lead investigative team to the effort.
This award is named after Eugene Katz, a native New Yorker who started his career, after Dartmouth and Oxford, as a reporter for The Daily Oklahoman. In 1928, he joined the family business, working as an advertising salesman for the Katz Agency, and in 1952 became president of Katz Communications, a half-billion-dollar firm which not only dealt in radio and television advertising but also owned and managed a number of radio stations. Mr. Katz was a member of the Center for Immigration Studies board until shortly after his 90th birthday in 1997. He passed away in 2000.
The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan research institute which examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. It is animated by a pro-immigrant/low-immigration vision, but offers the Katz Award not to promote a certain point of view but rather to foster informed decision-making on an issue so central to America's future.
Center for Immigration Studies
June 3, 2005
Jerry Seper Articles
1. Terrorist cells too close for comfort U.S. border with Canada a 'soft spot'
2. Al Qaeda seeks tie to local gangs Salvadoran group may aid entry to U.S.
3. Volunteers set to monitor Arizona border crossings
4. Border patrols inspire imitation, Other civilians take up cause
5. Immigration enforcement grows weaker: 2 million illegal aliens enter U.S. since 2000
6. Revolving door at border: Aliens often freed for lack of detention space
7. Outnumbered in a hunt for aliens; Force of 200 charged with tracking 400,000 criminals, 'absconders'
8. Aliens hiding in plain sight: Once in U.S., illegals have little to fear
9. GOP senators, officials back alien proposal: Call Bush plan 'bold step'
Terrorist cells too close for comfort U.S. border with Canada a 'soft spot'
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, December 10, 2003, Pg. A1
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- They're hiding in plain sight, just north of here - a short striking distance away from some of America's most-vulnerable targets.
This silent army of terrorists, including members of al Qaeda, has the "capability and conviction" to support devastating attacks across North America, operating out of "sleeper cells" from Montreal to Vancouver, according to U.S. and Canadian law-enforcement authorities.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has called the 4,121-mile U.S.-Canada border a "soft spot" for terrorism, and law-enforcement authorities in both countries think that cell members in Canada - and others who have relocated to the United States - are awaiting orders, financing and a window of opportunity to strike again.
And the authorities said the large and growing population of illegal aliens now in the United States gives the would-be terrorists, mostly Islamist extremists, the necessary cover to operate in this country.
"Our mission here is very clear," said Peter J. Smith, who heads the Office of Investigations for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] in New York. "We need to develop the necessary intelligence to harden our border with Canada, to make sure we can protect this country against terrorists - whatever their source."
Since the September 11 attacks on America, transforming the northern border from a vulnerability into a hardened line of defense has become the mission of both ICE and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection [CBP], two new agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.
But it is a complicated task, confounded not only by the region's immensity but by a long-standing lack of manpower and technology along the border; the absence of effective efforts to track down illegal aliens in the United States; a lax immigration policy in Canada; and the necessity by ICE and CBP to devise an effective border-enforcement strategy.
"As the guardian of our nation's borders, CBP's priority mission is to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States," said CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner. "To do this, we are for the first time revising and refocusing our border-enforcement efforts both in the north and the south as part of an aggressive strategy of protection.
"Despite the fact we have almost doubled our staff on the northern border, we are doing more than just adding people. We are adding new techniques and technology, new thinking and a new commitment I believe will significantly enhance our ability to detect, identify and respond to border intrusions," Mr. Bonner said.
Although terrorists have assumed the major attention of CBP and ICE, the two agencies are still responsible for the detection and apprehension of illegal aliens. Although stemming their flow has been a major concern along the 1,940-mile U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands daily cross into the United States and disappear, it never has been a priority along the northern border.
That fact exacerbates concerns that terrorists will use America's porous back door to gain access from Canada and hide among the millions of illegal aliens who have found refuge in the United States, such as those from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria and 60 other countries who annually sneak into this country across the Canadian border.
Nearly 300,000 immigrants are admitted each year to Canada, some of whom have been identified by authorities as terrorists looking for safe haven. But because Canada does not detain refugee claimants, even those with questionable backgrounds, more than 10,000 disappear each year into Canada's ethnic communities.
Mr. Bonner thinks Canada's existing political-asylum program is a "security threat," but he said efforts are being made to address the problem - and to fix it.
"We are working with Canadian customs and are seeing some progress," Mr. Bonner said. "It is, however, a problem we need to continue to address."
The Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Resource Center [CCIRC] in Montreal, a private watchdog agency, agreed that a proper response to the September 11 attacks necessitated a re-examination of the manner in which foreign nationals - including would-be terrorists - are permitted entry to and through Canada's borders.
But Montreal lawyer Colin R. Singer, who represents CCIRC, said new immigration laws alone would not solve "deep-rooted policy related problems" that have surfaced in that country and impacted the United States.
He said other pressing needs also have to be addressed, including the failure of U.S. law enforcement to detect a "network of terrorists who undertook sophisticated and prolonged efforts to unleash such devastation and destruction on American soil."
Mr. Singer said Canadian immigration policy, which authorizes nearly three times the per capita numbers of immigrants annually as the United States does, was designed to help ensure that Canada's dwindling labor market had a sufficient work force.
He said efforts to curb immigration simply to appease the United States would impact negatively on Canada's labor market.
But Mr. Singer said the two countries have begun to work together, particularly in the area of shared intelligence, and he is optimistic that agreements that reflect the needs of each country will be made to better guarantee the safety of both.
"Great strides have been made because both sides have not ignored the fact that each has its own problems and needs," he said.
A textbook case of a terrorist who used Canada as a staging area was Ahmed Ressam, arrested in December 1999 as he tried to cross into the United States at Port Angeles, Wash. An Algerian national who lived in Montreal and trained as a terrorist in Afghanistan, he intended to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations.
Some U.S. officials have speculated that September 11 planner Mohamed Atta, who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 as it crashed into the World Trade Center, traveled, to Canada through Portland, Maine, on the eve of the attacks to meet with his "handler." There has been no other explanation for his Sept. 10, 2001, trip to Portland, from which he could have taken unchallenged the Quoddy Loop ferry line into Canada.
With both financial and logistical bases of operation, the Canada-based sleeper cells have been described by U.S. and Canadian authorities as "secretive, operational and loyal" to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Most members, such as Ressam, are thought to have trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan funded by Osama bin Laden.
Although none of the 19 September 11 hijackers entered the United States through Canada, several unsuccessful plots to attack targets in America have been planned by terrorists operating in that country, including members of al Qaeda. Fifteen known terrorists have been arrested entering the United States from Canada since 1995.
In December, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service [CSIS] confirmed that al Qaeda had established sleeper cells throughout Canada to support terrorist activities across North America. CSIS said the cells represented a significant threat to both Canada and the United States.
U.S. authorities said sleeper cells also operate in at least 40 states from Florida and New York to California and Washington state - living low-profile lives, often in ethnic communities. The September 2002 arrest of seven members of a terrorist cell in Lackawanna, N.Y., just south of Buffalo, was a first major clue to their existence.
Between 2,000 and 5,000 terrorist operatives are said to be in the United States, many of whom are hiding in ethnic communities throughout the country, populated by millions of foreign immigrants, including illegal aliens for which the U.S. government cannot account.
In fact, no one knows how many illegal aliens are in America today or how many more are on the way. Not one single government agency or elected or appointed federal official can say with certainty where they live, work or play.
"And, quite frankly, it doesn't appear that anyone really cares," said a senior Border Patrol agent here, reflecting the concern of dozens of CBP and ICE agents assigned along the northern border as part of the new Department of Homeland Security. "One man's illegal alien certainly could be someone else's terrorist."
Stretching from here to Port Angeles, agents and inspectors along the border said once illegal aliens cross through the so-called "border region" - an area extending about 60 miles into the United States - little effort is made to identify who they are, to check where they've gone or to round them up.
The agents are concerned, even angry, over what they described as a long-standing lack of any significant effort to locate, detain and remove those who have avoided detection - which could include would-be terrorists. They said millions of undocumented immigrants are in this country, including thousands of criminal aliens - those convicted of crimes in this country but released after serving their sentences.
"The uncertainties concerning interior enforcement, detention and removal, and who's going to do these important jobs are a major concern to those of us assigned to guard America's borders," said Deputy Chief Edward Duda at the Border Patrol's Buffalo sector.
"While we protect the borders, someone else has got to take up the slack in the country's interior," he said. "No one knows who these people are or what they're doing, and the price of not finding out is just too high."
Michael W. Cutler, a 31-year Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] veteran who spent most of his career as a criminal investigator and intelligence specialist, said effective interior enforcement demands adequate staffing to ensure that undesirable persons - including illegal aliens, drug smugglers and terrorists - are denied unfettered access to the United States.
But, he said, the country's interior-enforcement program historically has been understaffed and neglected.
"The proof of this, of course, is the fact that anywhere from 9 million to 12 million illegal aliens live in the United States, but fewer than 2,000 agents have been assigned nationwide to interior enforcement," he said. "With this kind of commitment, you don't have the manpower to get the job done. Not now, not ever."
A major question being asked along the U.S.-Canada border is: Whose job is it to find illegal aliens now in the country's interior?
"That would be me," said ICE boss Michael J. Garcia. "We are committed to reducing the undocumented immigrant population in the United States, and we are developing a comprehensive, clear-cut interior-enforcement strategy to attack the problem.
"We have new tools to work with, a newly reorganized border force on which we can rely, and the support of the White House, Congress and the American people. I am confident we will succeed," he said.
But some veteran border agents, inspectors and others are not as confident, expressing concern that ICE's management is in disarray, that major issues - including an effective interior-enforcement plan - have yet to be resolved and that many of the bureau's key executives lack management experience.
"It's like an immigration enforcement tripod, standing on three legs: immigration inspectors at the ports of entry, the Border Patrol between ports and special agents backing up those two operations," Mr. Cutler said. "All three legs have to be of equal strength to stand. If one is less than the others, like a tripod, the whole . . . thing will fall over."
Mr. Garcia acknowledged that it will "take time to determine what resources we have and what we need," but ICE has the ability to "make significant progress in putting together an effective detention and removal program."
Still, Border Patrol Senior Agent Larry D. Shields, who works in the Havre, Mont., sector, said most agents think no one actively is seeking illegal aliens in the country, and the longer they remain - with no concern about being caught - the bolder they will become.
"Once they get by the nation's thin green line of Border Patrol agents or through the country's ports of entry, they've got nothing to worry about," Mr. Shields said. "And we're talking about intruders who could have come here to find a job, commit a crime or carry out an act of terrorism."
Last year, the General Accounting Office said an effective interior-enforcement strategy was "an essential complement" to gaining control of the border, but INS faced "significant challenges" in properly staffing its enforcement program and in "establishing clear and consistent guidance" to those assigned to do the job.
The GAO said that the potential pool of removable criminal aliens numbered in the hundreds of thousands; that the number of people smuggled into the country had increased dramatically; that alien smuggling had become more "sophisticated, complex, organized and flexible;" and that thousands of illegal aliens had sought immigration benefits, some of which were used to conduct criminal activities.
The watchdog agency also concluded that hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens not authorized to work in the United States had used fraudulent documents to gain employment and that many employers were "complicit in this activity."
Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, vigorously has called for increased interior enforcement, noting that 300,000 aliens in the United States - 6,000 from countries that support terrorism - have been ordered deported but have yet to be processed or located.
Dan Stein, executive director of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform [FAIR], consistently has argued - and testified before Congress - that a "glaring failure" leading to the September 11 attacks was the lack of an effective interior-enforcement program.
Mr. Stein said because 2,000 agents have been assigned to look for as many as 12 million illegal aliens, there is "virtually no possibility" that foreigners residing illegally in this country will be detected, apprehended or removed.
Further hampering the interior-enforcement effort, he said, are a series of legislative proposals that encourage illegal aliens to remain in the country, including efforts to extend an immigration loophole allowing illegal aliens to become permanent legal residents without undergoing a thorough background check and efforts by Republicans and Democrats to implement a sweeping amnesty program for illegal aliens.
Four years ago, Congress - upset over what it called a "lack of visible results" in the INS' interior-enforcement strategy despite a $3.9 billion budget - said that the lure of jobs was the single most compelling incentive for illegal migration and that a forward-deployment enforcement strategy along the Canadian and Mexican borders would only be effective if there was a "corresponding reduction in employment opportunities."
The original INS interior-enforcement strategy sought to create what the agency called "a seamless web of enforcement extending from the border to the work site." Plagued by mismanagement, policy failures and administrative boondoggles, INS never was able to implement the strategy. INS since has been absorbed into Homeland Security.
Mr. Garcia said the key elements of any successful effort by ICE to disrupt and dismantle terrorist organizations globally would be the aggressive pursuit of intelligence data and increased cooperation among international law-enforcement authorities - particularly those in the United States and Canada.
That desired cooperative effort took a giant step within an hour of the second hijacked airplane hitting the World Trade Center, when James H. Johnston, director of intelligence and contraband for Canada customs in Windsor, called his U.S. counterparts in Detroit offering "every bit of intelligence information" he had to help find those responsible.
"It went without question that every file we had in our office was available to them," he said. "If we had any information that was pertinent, we wanted to make sure it got to the appropriate agency. I believe they expected we would be there for them, and I'm glad we were."
After the September 11 attacks, Mr. Johnston ordered that records of all border crossings be checked and forwarded to U.S. authorities. His offer later was repeated all along the U.S.-Canada border, as authorities in both countries worked to identify the September 11 terrorists.
"This is the longest undefended border in the world, with the longest history of cooperation and friendship among those assigned to protect its integrity," Mr. Johnston said. "Before September 11, we mainly were looking at goods. Now we're looking at goods and people. If anything, the attacks in New York and against the Pentagon have enhanced both the operation and our cooperation."
Although it is not possible to shut down the often-remote U.S.-Canada border to every real or potential threat, Mark MacVittie, the CBP's chief inspector in Buffalo, said it is not unrealistic to expect the men and woman on the line to try.
"We continually are re-emphasizing the importance of our mission and how the decisions the inspectors make on a daily basis could impact on innocent people all across the United States," Mr. MacVittie said. "We are focused on one goal: Making sure the person being cleared at the border today isn't headed down the road to hurt someone tomorrow."
Al Qaeda seeks tie to local gangs Salvadoran group may aid entry to U.S.
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, September 28, 2004, Pg. A1
A top al Qaeda lieutenant has met with leaders of a violent Salvadoran criminal gang with roots in Mexico and the United States - including a stronghold in the Washington area - in an effort by the terrorist network to seek help infiltrating the U.S.-Mexico border, law enforcement authorities said.
Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, a key al Qaeda cell leader for whom the U.S. government has offered a $5 million reward, was spotted in July in Honduras meeting with leaders of El Salvador's notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang, which immigration officials said has smuggled hundreds of Central and South Americans - mostly gang members - into the United States.
Although they are actively involved in alien, drug and weapons smuggling, Mara Salvatrucha members in America also have been tied to numerous killings, robberies, burglaries, carjackings, extortions, rapes and aggravated assaults - including at least seven killings in Virginia and a machete attack on a 16-year-old in Alexandria that severely mutilated his hands.
The Salvadoran gang, known to law enforcement authorities as MS-13 because many members identify themselves with tattoos of the number 13, is thought to have established a major smuggling center in Matamoros, Mexico, just south of Brownsville, Texas, from where it has arranged to bring illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico into the United States.
Authorities said al Qaeda terrorists hope to take advantage of a lack of detention space within the Department of Homeland Security that has forced immigration officials to release non-Mexican illegal aliens back into the United States, rather than return them to their home countries.
Less than 15 percent of those released appear for immigration hearings. Nearly 60,000 illegal aliens designated as other-than-Mexican, or OTMs, were detained last year along the U.S.-Mexico border.
El Shukrijumah, born in Saudi Arabia but thought to be a Yemen national, was spotted in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in July, having crossed the border illegally from Nicaragua after a stay in Panama. U.S. authorities said al Qaeda operatives have been in Tegucigalpa planning attacks against British, Spanish and U.S. embassies.
Known to carry passports from Saudi Arabia, Trinidad, Guyana and Canada, El Shukrijumah had sought meetings with the Mara Salvatrucha gang leaders who control alien-smuggling routes through Mexico and into the United States.
El Shukrijumah, 29, who authorities said was in Canada last year looking for nuclear material for a so-called "dirty bomb" and reportedly has family members in Guyana, was named in a March 2003 material-witness arrest warrant by federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia, where U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said he is sought in connection with potential terrorist threats against the United States.
A former southern Florida resident and pilot thought to have helped plan the September 11 attacks, El Shukrijumah was among seven suspected al Qaeda operatives identified in May by Attorney General John Ashcroft as being involved in plans to strike new targets in the United States.
Citing "credible intelligence from multiple sources," Mr. Ashcroft said at the time that El Shukrijumah posed "a clear and present danger to America." In August, an FBI alert described him as "armed and dangerous" and a major threat to homeland security.
Earlier this month, Mr. Ashcroft confirmed that U.S. border agents and inspectors had ramped up efforts to find El Shukrijumah amid reports that the al Qaeda leader was thought to be seeking entry routes into the United States along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mr. Ashcroft noted that increased enforcement efforts were under way in the wake of a rise of arrests of border jumpers from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
Authorities said Mara Salvatrucha gang members moved into the Los Angeles area in the 1980s and developed a reputation for being organized and extremely violent. The gang since has expanded into the Washington area, including Virginia and Maryland, and into Oregon, Alaska, Texas, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Georgia and Florida.
More than 3,000 Mara Salvatrucha gang members are thought to be in the Washington area, with a major operation in Northern Virginia. Other gang centers, authorities said, include Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the Hispanic neighborhoods of Washington.
Mr. McNulty, whose office has prosecuted Mara Salvatrucha gang members, has described the organization as the "gang of greatest interest" to law enforcement authorities. He said gang members are recruited predominantly from Hispanic communities and typically among juveniles, some as young as 13. Recruits are "jumped" into the gang by being beaten by members while others count to 13, he said.
Gang rules, he said, are indoctrinated into new recruits and ruthlessly enforced. Those who cooperate with law enforcement are given the "green light," he said, meaning that the gang had approved their killing.
In March, the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office filed an injunction against Mara Salvatrucha, charging that the gang's criminal activity constituted a "public nuisance" based on the number of killings, robberies and drug crimes. The injunction requires gang members, under public nuisance statutes, to follow curfew rules and regulations and prohibits them from associating, driving or appearing together in designated areas of the city.
Volunteers set to monitor Arizona border crossings
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, January 24, 2005, Pg. A1
A retired California businessman has 240 volunteers ready for a 30-day aerial and ground surveillance campaign on the Arizona-Mexico border to highlight what he calls the government's failure to control illegal immigration.
But law enforcement authorities warn they may be putting themselves in danger.
James Gilchrist, a combat-wounded U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran, said the "Minuteman Project" will field volunteers from 37 states, many of them ex-military and law enforcement personnel, to man observation posts and a communications center, along with seven pilots from Arizona who will provide aerial surveillance.
Billed as "Americans doing the job Congress won't do," the project - which will begin April 1 - is intended to showcase inadequate border- and immigration-enforcement policies by the U.S. government, Mr. Gilchrist said.
"We hope to bring enough attention also that we can send a message to our leaders in Washington, D.C., that this is our country, too," he said. "This border issue is about all 50 states, not just Arizona or Texas. It's about our Constitution and how it applies to all of us.
"We're looking for this nation to again be guided by the rule of law, not a nation ruled by an endless mob of illegal aliens streaming across our borders like a tsunami, a culture shock that someday - perhaps soon - we will have neither the manpower nor the will to stop," he said.
Despite a Web page that refers to the Minuteman Project as a "blocking force against entry into the U.S. by illegal aliens," Mr. Gilchrist said there are no plans to detain or confront the aliens. He said the volunteers, who will live in tents or recreational vehicles along the border, will seek only to spot them with binoculars, telescopes and night-vision equipment as they enter the United States and report their position to the Border Patrol.
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Nicely, who heads the Tucson, Ariz., sector, is concerned about their safety, noting that the U.S.-Mexico border is "a dangerous environment even under the best of circumstances." He said well-equipped and highly trained law-enforcement personnel have found the border to be a "hazardous place."
"We are always concerned about civilians who put themselves in danger," Chief Nicely said. "People certainly have the right to demonstrate to make a political point, and we will not interfere with that, but they are absolutely not equipped to deal with the border environment.
"It doesn't take a lot of imagination to picture what could happen," he said, noting that alien smugglers in the area often are armed and have not hesitated to confront Border Patrol personnel. "It could be a very [volatile] situation, one that reasonable people ought to avoid."
Chief Nicely said he has not talked with project organizers and has no operational plan to deal with those who set up surveillance operations on the border. He said his agents would respond to the volunteers based on operational priorities.
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, whose jurisdiction includes the targeted border areas, has met with project leaders and understands their desire to highlight border and immigration enforcement efforts, but warned that the volunteers have to act within the law.
"I have no doubt these are well-intentioned and good-hearted people who have recognized a just cause in securing and protecting our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration," Sheriff Dever said. "But their methods and their intentions should not and cannot manifest themselves in illegal ways.
"And there is the potential for conflict," he said, noting that 40 percent of Cochise County is privately owned and many of the ranchers and other property owners "don't want to be someone else's playground."
Sheriff Dever said he also warned the leaders of the potential for conflict with alien smugglers, who seek to operate under the "cloak of concealment" but could become a real threat if confronted.
"They are willing to violently challenge law enforcement personnel, so I assure you they'll take on anybody. The potential for violence is very real, and I issued all the cautions I possibly could," he said.
A key focus of the project will be a 20-mile stretch of border lowlands in the San Pedro River Valley, 90 miles southeast of Tucson. It has become a high-traffic corridor for illegals headed north because it has water, fairly level ground, places to camp and wood to burn.
About 10,000 illegal aliens cross the U.S.-Mexico border every day, more than 3 million a year, mostly in Arizona. Only about a third of them are caught.
Mr. Gilchrist said all Minuteman Project volunteers underwent a screening process before they were accepted to weed out those "with bad intentions." He said it would be "a true disaster and an embarrassment for this mission to fail because we didn't attract the right people."
"We don't want the guys in white sheets and hoods, the militants or the supremacists. Many of the applicants were told thanks, but no thanks," he said. "In the end, I believe we will bring serious media and political attention to the shameful fact that 21st century minutemen/women have to help secure U.S. borders because the government refuses to provide the manpower and funding required to do so."
Border patrols inspire imitation, Other civilians take up cause
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, April 16, 2005, Pg. A1
The Minuteman Project border vigil, which has nearly shut down a 20-mile corridor of the U.S.-Mexico border to illegal aliens, has spawned the creation of similar civilian patrols from California to Texas.
One of the new patrols, known as the "Yuma Patriots," was scheduled to begin operations today along the U.S.-Mexico border south of Yuma, Ariz., to curb rising numbers of illegal aliens flooding into southwestern Arizona.
"This is not about being racist or persecuting someone for the color of his skin," said Flash Sharrar, organizer of the Yuma Patriots, which will follow the Minuteman model of not engaging border crossers but reporting them to the Border Patrol.
"It is about this country being overrun. ... It is our civic duty as citizens of Yuma to stop this crisis," he said.
The U.S. Border Patrol has acknowledged receiving 317 calls from Naco and Douglas, the site of the Minuteman vigil, that have resulted in 846 arrests of illegal aliens, but has not confirmed whether any of those calls came from the volunteers.
Other new civilian patrols, not affiliated with the Minuteman Project, are preparing to be up and running over the next several months in California, New Mexico and Texas. Officials familiar with the California effort believe volunteers will be patrolling the border in San Ysidro, Calif., by June.
Minuteman co-organizer Chris Simcox said the project had "ignited a nationwide wave of support," adding that the organization hoped to begin a fundraising effort to help finance civilian patrols.
Mr. Simcox's Minuteman partner, James T. Gilchrist, said several Border Patrol field agents told him they "tremendously appreciate" what the volunteers are doing to bring attention to the porous border.
He said the agents, all of whom asked not to be identified, reported that since the volunteers arrived, apprehensions in the 20-mile area where the Minutemen have set up observation posts have dropped from 1,000 a day to less than 20.
Before the beginning of the Minuteman vigil, volunteers - more than 600 of whom have completed a four-hour training session and spent at least one eight-hour shift on the border - were accused of being armed racists prone to violence. No incidents have occurred during the first two weeks of operation.
In Yuma, Mr. Sharrar told reporters there has been a dramatic rise in the number of illegal aliens moving through the area in the past several months. He said increased efforts by the Border Patrol in southeastern Arizona - a major corridor for illegal immigration - have pushed the illegals into Yuma.
Earlier this year, the Border Patrol reported that agents in the Yuma sector arrested more than 23,000 illegal aliens from October to December, the first quarter of fiscal 2005. That compared with 8,230 arrests in the same quarter last year, a 180 percent increase.
About 50 people are expected to take part in the Yuma patrols. They have been instructed to observe suspected illegals and report them to the Border Patrol on their cell phones or radios.
Officially, the Border Patrol has not been supportive of the Minuteman Project, saying they should have left border protection to the professionals and that they had interfered with operations by tripping sensors in the area.
But Mr. Gilchrist noted that residents in the area have been supportive and many have stopped by to talk with the volunteers and others have brought them home-made cookies.
Several homeowners along the border have told The Washington Times that the presence of the Minuteman volunteers had resulted in the first time in years that their dogs were quiet and they could get a full night's sleep.
Immigration enforcement grows weaker: 2 million illegal aliens enter U.S. since 2000
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, November 24, 2004, Pg. A1
Immigration enforcement efforts actually have become more lax since the September 11 attacks and have had "no meaningful impact" on the growing number of immigrants now in the United States - which has reached a record high of 34 million, according to a report released yesterday.
A 13 percent increase of U.S. immigrants, more than 4 million, since 2000 included more than 2 million illegal aliens, who now total about 10 million or 30 percent of the immigrant population, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said in its report, based on as-yet-unpublished U.S. Census Bureau data.
The report said that while visa applicants from some parts of the world may have to wait longer for approval and a "tiny number of illegal aliens from selected countries" may have been detained, enforcement efforts did not constitute any major change in U.S. immigration policy.
The fact that immigration has remained so high, the report said, also showed that immigration totals are not tied to the nation's economy, as some immigration proponents and others have suggested.
"The idea that immigration is a self-regulating process that rises and falls in close step with the economy is simply wrong," said Steven Camarota, CIS director of research and the report's author. "Today, the primary sending countries are so much poorer than the United States, even being unemployed in America is still sometimes better than staying in one's home country."
Mr. Camarota said the countries primarily represented among the nation's immigrant population are much poorer than the primary sending countries in the past. The United States' much higher standard of living, he said, exists even during recessions, noting that people come to the United States to join family, to avoid social or legal obligations, to take advantage of the United States' social services, and to enjoy greater personal and political freedom.
"Even a prolonged economic downturn is unlikely to have a large impact on immigration levels. If we want lower immigration levels it would require enforcement of immigration laws and changes to the legal immigration system," he said.
Maryland was among the eight states with the largest increases in immigrant population, along with Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Washington, Arizona and Pennsylvania.
The report comes just two days after President Bush assured Mexico he would expend "political capital" earned in his re-election to push hard to grant temporary guest-worker status to millions of illegal immigrants now in the United States.
Mr. Bush has tried since the first month of his presidency in 2001 to push an immigration-reform bill through Congress that would allow illegal aliens to remain in this country indefinitely, and others to cross the border from Mexico, if they registered for "temporary worker cards."
CIS, a private research organization that seeks better immigration enforcement, said in the report that the 34.24 million immigrants, both legal and illegal, now in the United States is the highest number ever recorded in American history. It said about half, or 2 million, of the 4.3 million increase since 2000 is estimated to be illegal aliens.
Data collected by the Census Bureau, the report said, showed there are roughly 9 million illegal aliens now in the United States, but that prior research found that 10 percent of the nation's illegal-alien population is missed by the Census Bureau survey, suggesting a total illegal population of about 10 million in March of this year.
Mr. Camarota said the same Census Bureau data also showed that in the years between 2000 and 2004, nearly 6.1 million new immigrants - legal and illegal - arrived from abroad, but that the arrivals are offset by deaths and return migration among immigrants already here, so the total increased by 4.3 million.
He said the 6.1 million new immigrants who arrived since 2000 compared to 5.5 million new arrivals in the four years prior to 2000, during an economic expansion.
"The pace of immigration is so surprising because unemployment among immigrants increased from 4.4 to 6.1 percent, and the number of unemployed immigrants grew by 43 percent," Mr. Camarota said.
The report also said:
* Unlike current immigration, evidence from the 19th and early 20th centuries indicates that economic downturns in this country did have a very significant effect on immigration levels.
* As a share of the nation's total population, immigrants now account for nearly 12 percent, the highest percentage in more than 80 years.
* Recent immigration has had no significant effect on the nation's age structure. If the 6.1 million immigrants who arrived after 2000 had not come, the average age in the United States would be virtually unchanged at 36 years.
* The diversity of the immigrant population continues to decline, with the top country, Mexico, accounting for 31 percent of all immigrants in 2004, up from 28 percent in 2000, 22 percent in 1990 and 16 percent in 1980.
The report is titled "Economy Slowed, But Immigration Didn't: The Foreign-born Population 2000-2004," and is available at the CIS Web site: www.cis.org.
Revolving door at border: Aliens often freed for lack of detention space
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, July 21, 2004
SAN DIEGO -- Handcuffed and shackled with their pockets pulled inside out, more than 150 illegal aliens are loaded onto an airplane every night, bound for detention centers in the United States to await deportation orders to their home countries.
Searched by a cadre of uniformed federal agents and encircled by heavily armed officers, they are herded off buses in the dead of night on an isolated tarmac at San Diego International Airport, where they silently shuffle single file on board a waiting MD-82 jetliner.
Some never have been on an airplane. Others have made the trip before. Many will be back.
A monthlong investigation by The Washington Times found that a shortage of detention space and lack of manpower force federal authorities to regularly release illegal aliens back on the streets of America - and often to ignore requests to pick up illegals in the custody of state and local officials.
"There's no question we need more detention space, more people and more equipment to get the job done," said J. Michael Vaughn, a detention and deportation supervisor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] in Los Angeles. His processing center handles between 3,000 and 4,500 illegals a month.
"If we are the final step in an immigration-enforcement system that seeks to remove from the country those people who do not legally belong, we need some help. I assure you: The battle is being fought right here," Mr. Vaughn said.
ICE, hamstrung by long-standing budgetary constraints that have left its detention and removal program seriously undermanned and underfunded, has 20,000 beds available at ICE-managed and -contracted detention centers nationwide - not enough to house the aliens in custody on a daily basis.
And that shortfall comes at a time when ICE, led by the agency's 18 fugitive operations squads, is vigorously hunting 80,000 criminal aliens and more than 320,000 "absconders," foreign nationals who were ordered deported but disappeared. Meantime, the Border Patrol is expected to arrest a million illegal aliens this year.
As for the estimated 8 million to 12 million illegals living and working in the United States, no one is really trying to find them. Even if anyone was, there is no place to put them.
Hundreds of Mexican nationals, arrested everyday by federal authorities as they try to illegally enter the United States and by state and local police during routine crime investigations, are released back onto American or to the Mexican side of border towns because of the detention-space shortage.
Frustrated Border Patrol agents call the system "catch and release," and they, along with state and local police, say ICE detention officials consistently turn away aliens who they've apprehended, citing a lack of manpower or space.
Many released illegals get written notices to appear for an immigration hearing, although records show that more than 85 percent never appear. Those notices are referred to by ICE and Border Patrol agents as "run letters."
The lack of detention space has created a hazardous situation for agents in the field, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents the agency's 10,000 nonsupervisory agents.
Mr. Bonner said the number of illegals being apprehended is so high that many are being detained for only a few hours before being released - only to be rearrested later.
State and local authorities who house illegal aliens for an average payment of about $54 a day release many of them because detention bills are going unpaid. Others complain that "unrealistic detention standards" imposed by the federal government, such as special ethnic meals and legal libraries, have made it impossible to house the aliens.
"The question becomes evident: Why are so many agents putting their lives on the line everyday if the option is letting them go free anyway?" Mr. Bonner said.
At the San Diego airport, ICE Supervisor Jonas "J.J." Reyes, West Coast coordinator for the government's Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System [JPATS], counts heads and directs traffic, constantly barking into a cell phone: Three out of Phoenix. Forty-eight out of Las Vegas. Forty to San Diego. Eight to Los Angeles. Another 68 for San Diego.
With the city's skyline shimmering in the darkness and the whine of the awaiting jet making normal conversation nearly impossible, Mr. Reyes telephones one of his agents in Oakland. It's shortly after 1:30 a.m., and the agent has been waiting for permission to start another load of illegal aliens south.
"Go," Mr. Reyes says as the jet here taxies off the tarmac. His attention is focused on the white, unmarked jetliner as it moves quickly down the runway, gaining speed. Suddenly, it's airborne and disappears in the cloud cover.
"We're clear," he says, giving thumbs up to a dozen of his agents as they head through the airport and home. "Just another 12-hour day doing what we do, moving people, more than ever before. We just can't seem to stop this flow."
Tonight's aircraft, leased by ICE from JPATS, is carrying 176 foreign nationals to ICE detention centers in Eloy and Florence, Ariz., where the aliens will be housed, processed and readied for return trips home - when, and if, ordered to be removed by a federal immigration judge.
At about the same time the next day, more than 150 other illegal aliens will be herded off the same buses, walked across the same tarmac and escorted on board the same airplane by the same team of agents, with Mr. Reyes shouting new numbers into a cell phone.
"I guess that's what they call job security," he says.
More than two dozen ICE and Border Patrol supervisors and agents interviewed from California to Florida say the government's lack of adequate funding for detention and removal of illegal aliens is consistent with a long-standing failure by lawmakers in Washington to fund enforcement of U.S. immigration law.
They say the defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS], which formerly headed the interior-enforcement program, chronically shortchanged manpower requests to oversee detained aliens and never funded the processing centers necessary to house them while they await the many immigration hearings guaranteed under federal statutes.
"The government gave up a long time ago trying to detain and deport the vast majority of illegal aliens now in the United States," said a veteran ICE supervisor in Los Angeles, who formerly worked for INS. "We never had the money or the people to get the job done, and now they want to target thousands of criminal aliens and absconders.
"I believe they are making new efforts to get more resources, but it's going to take some time and a lot of effort," the supervisor said.
In addition to funding problems, ICE's detention and removal efforts are under attack by an army of immigration lawyers who are well-versed at keeping the government at bay and by pro-immigration groups that have won victories for aliens seeking to avoid deportation.
In June, the Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund [MALDEF], which calls itself the nation's premier Hispanic civil rights organization, took credit for blocking passage of two amendments to the Department of Homeland Security's appropriations bill that it viewed as anti-immigration.
The amendments, by Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, would have compelled state and local police to detain illegals or lose federal funding and would have denied funds to any state that permitted illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses or comparable identification.
"Turning local police officers into de facto immigration agents would have a chilling effect on community policing and officer relationships with the Latino community," Katherine Culliton, MALDEF's legislative staff lawyer, said.
In a pending lawsuit, pro-immigration and civil rights groups seek to stop the government from entering immigration information into a national crime database, saying it was misused in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Filed in U.S. District Court in New York, the suit said the Justice Department and the FBI unlawfully entered civil immigration information into the National Crime Information Center [NCIC], subjecting immigrants to the risk of unlawful arrest by state and local police. The suit also questioned the authority of Attorney General John Ashcroft to enlist state and local police in enforcing federal immigration law.
Joining in the suit were the National Council of La Raza, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Latin American Workers Project, the New York Immigration Coalition and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
The NCIC database includes 40 million felons, fugitives and others sought by federal law enforcement and was expanded after September 11 to include illegal aliens who failed to show up for deportation hearings. Mr. Ashcroft said the database helped lead to the arrest of eight suspected terrorists, including a member of al Qaeda.
Last month, La Raza President Raul Yzaguirre called on the Bush administration to order an end to the Border Patrol's arrest of illegals in several inland Southern California communities, saying sweeps by a 12-member task force were "a clear assault on civil rights in an area with a sizable Latino population."
In response, Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson met privately with Democratic lawmakers and issued a statement saying the department would consider "sensitivities" when making similar arrests in the future.
Mr. Hutchinson said that although the arrests were "within their legal authority," they had not been approved in advance and violated long-standing policy giving the Border Patrol a "clear border nexus." He did not elaborate, but told the lawmakers, who challenged the arrests as racial profiling, that immigration enforcement in the interior was the responsibility of ICE.
ICE officials, however, have acknowledged they lack the resources to target the estimated 8 million to 12 million illegals in the United States and focus on criminal aliens and absconders.
In October 2002, the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said INS cost taxpayers millions annually because of its inability to identify and deport illegals held in federal, state and local prisons - estimated at more than 25 percent of the country's total inmate population.
In a report, the agency said the INS had not "effectively managed" a program to identify criminal aliens as soon as they served prison terms and was unable to determine the nationwide population of foreign-born inmates or to identify and process deportable inmates. It said illegal aliens improperly released had gone on to commit new crimes, many serious and often violent.
In March, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, told the House Appropriations Committee that because of expanded enforcement capabilities, the daily population of detainees had grown to more than 20,000, from less than 6,000 just 10 years ago.
Noting that ICE had detained more than 230,000 aliens and removed about 140,00 from the United States since the agency's creation in March 2003, he said the Office of Detention and Removal had the best opportunity for progress as he and others seek increased resources and manpower.
"Getting the bad guys off the street is the first thing we want to do," Mr. Garcia said, noting that President Bush's fiscal 2005 budget request of $1.2 billion for detention and removal - an increase of $125 million - would "enhance public safety and national security by ensuring the departure from the United States of removable aliens."
The key word here is "removable," which means those aliens who have been ordered deported and whose whereabouts are known.
But Dan Stein, executive director of the District-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, described Mr. Bush's budget request for detention and removal as "proof positive the administration still is not taking immigration enforcement and national security seriously."
"The continuing catch-and-release program, which has been the hallmark of U.S. immigration enforcement for decades, must come to an end," Mr. Stein said, adding that Mr. Bush needed to adopt a "seamless, holistic approach to border control" that includes deterrence, detection, apprehension, detention and deportation.
The big crunch
David A. Kollus, who heads ICE's Service Processing Center in Florence, Ariz., is one of those who daily faces the crunch of massive illegal immigration. He is responsible for processing more than 20,000 people each year through a revamped World War II facility designed for German and Italian prisoners in the Arizona desert, 60 miles south of Phoenix.
"We process more people right now than anyone else in the country, but I expect even those numbers will increase as border enforcement expands," Mr. Kollus said of his 1,000-bed complex, which handles foreign nationals from as many as 45 countries, about half of whom are from Mexico.
Mr. Kollus said detainees remain there for two to three weeks, until an immigration judge decides on deportation.
"The detention officers here are well-trained, experienced and know what to do to maintain a controlled environment while still affording the detainees their rights," said Mr. Kollus, whose center has been fully accredited by the American Correctional Association for a dozen years. "We have never had a violent incident here."
But the potential is there, he acknowledged, because about 80 percent of detainees are convicted felons and include violent gang members. Many detainees have spent the past five to 10 years in federal and state prisons in the United States. The most dangerous wear red jumpsuits.
More funding is necessary to meet anticipated annual increases in detainees, Mr. Kollus said.
"This is not the glamorous branch of enforcement, but we are getting more than we used to in terms of resources," he said. "And that's important because the battle is being fought right here, and increases need to be made all the way down the line."
Mr. Kollus said he needs as many as 2,000 beds - double the current size.
Most aliens held in ICE detention nationwide are Mexican nationals, who will be processed and then deported. They will stay in the centers for an average of 12 to 14 days.
Other foreign nationals now detained, known as OTMs [other than Mexican], will spend an average of 44 to 60 days in custody before being removed. Some will be transported home on JPATS flights or commercial jets.
Detained Mexican nationals have the option of being returned home as part of a repatriation program aimed at reducing illegal border crossings by recent returnees. They can volunteer to be returned home via charter flights from Tucson, Ariz., to either Mexico City or Guadalajara, where a bus will meet them for the final leg.
ICE leases two JPATS aircraft, including pilots and attendants, to transport aliens. Managed by the U.S. Marshals Service, JPATS is one of the largest transporters of prisoners in the world, handling more than 1,000 requests a day to move prisoners between judicial districts, correctional institutions and foreign countries.
More than 270,000 transports a year of prisoners and aliens are completed by the JPATS fleet, which consists of three Boeing 727s, four MD-82s and several smaller jets. Many of the planes were acquired through government-surplus programs or asset forfeiture. They represent the only government-operated, regularly scheduled passenger airline in the nation.
But Mr. Reyes thinks ICE should have its own aircraft, saying the agency accounts for about 75 percent of JPATS flights and that if it had two aircraft of its own, "we could eliminate the middleman and be more efficient."
Based on budget constraints, that's not likely to happen.
Once illegal aliens are moved to processing centers, they are maintained under strict standards, said Paul G. Santos, assistant officer in charge at ICE's San Pedro, Calif., detention facility.
Mr. Santos is responsible for ensuring the detainees are housed in accord with standards adopted by the Department of Homeland Security that are higher than those in federal and state prisons.
The standards mandate types of meals served, medical services available, ability to use law libraries and prepare legal documents, recreational opportunities and access to religious services, he said, "regardless of the number of practitioners, whether the religion is mainstream, Western or Eastern, or other such factors."
Detainees, Mr. Santos said, also must have access to telephones and be allowed private visits with lawyers. They are encouraged to visit with family and friends. They have access to groups with information on immigration law, rights and procedures. They have the right to file grievances, which will be heard by a committee without reprisals.
The standards were issued in July 2003 to address criticisms by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which questioned treatment of foreign nationals held on immigration charges after the September 11 attacks.
In June, ICE began a pilot project for about 1,600 noncriminal detainees that provides "a compassionate alternative for eligible aliens" and includes electronic-monitoring devices, home and work visits and reporting by telephone.
Outnumbered in a hunt for aliens; Force of 200 charged with tracking 400,000 criminals, 'absconders'
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, July 20, 2004
LOS ANGELES -- It is shortly before 4 a.m. when Jorge Field gathers his team in a deserted parking lot in South Central Los Angeles.
The nine men and one woman quietly strap themselves into flak jackets, meticulously check their weapons and listen attentively to a quick but precise briefing, as they prepare to hunt for five convicted criminal aliens and a suspected terrorist threat.
"Let's go," commands Mr. Field, the supervisory agent of this U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] fugitive operations squad.
Traveling over the nearly abandoned streets at a quick pace with the lights out, the vehicles are guided over the radio by agent Loyda Rocha, who yesterday scouted the targets in this South Central Los Angeles corridor, now overrun by high unemployment and controlled by violent gangs.
No words are spoken. Everyone knows their assignment. The pre-dawn darkness is their ally.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement," Miss Rocha shouts as she bangs on the first door. "Federal agents, open the door."
She repeats the command in Spanish.
During the next 31/2 hours as part of an operation the agents refer to as "knock and talk," the team will arrest three Mexican nationals and a Guatemalan, all convicted criminals, and an Israeli national sought by the U.S. government as a potential terrorist threat.
None offers any resistance. And no one is hurt, unlike other engagements in the past year when two agents were shot and wounded. Miss Rocha's intelligence-gathering is spotless.
Tomorrow morning, the team will be ready to do it again, one of only 18 such squads nationwide seeking to arrest 80,000 criminal aliens - including killers, rapists, drug dealers and child molesters - and at least 320,000 "absconders," foreign nationals who were ordered deported but disappeared.
Coordinated through an aggressive, but undermanned and underfunded ICE initiative known as the National Fugitive Operations Program, the 18 fugitive teams translate to barely 200 agents looking for nearly a half-million criminal aliens and absconders hiding in communities from Seattle and Los Angeles to Miami and New York City.
"How can we expect so few agents to effectively deal with such a vast problem?" asked Michael W. Cutler, a retired U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service [INS] senior agent who spent 31 years with the agency as a criminal investigator and intelligence specialist.
"The answer is, of course, we can't," he said.
A monthlong investigation by The Washington Times, which included interviews with ICE supervisors and agents, other law-enforcement officials and immigration experts from Washington state to California and Florida, showed that the agency has begun a reinvigorated program aimed at apprehending America's most dangerous fugitive aliens.
But the inquiry also found that the ICE Office of Detention and Removal continues to be the victim of long-standing budgetary constraints and rigidly pursued, often politically dictated policies that have devoted five times as much manpower and resources to border enforcement than to interior-enforcement efforts.
"They're being asked to do an incredibly dangerous job, one in which they are perilously outnumbered," Mr. Cutler said. "Until we adequately fund this program, the security of our country and the safety of our people will remain in jeopardy."
Los Angeles' 10-member team, for example, is responsible for the detection and detention of criminal aliens in six Southern California counties, with an area of more than 35,000 square miles and a population of about 15 million people.
"We're making a difference out here, doing a job that not everyone wants, but doing it to the best of our ability," Mr. Field said. "These agents put themselves in a hostile situation everyday, acting on instinct and having trust and confidence in their fellow agents. I am very proud of them."
Many ICE supervisors and agents think that both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House repeatedly have ignored rapidly rising numbers of aliens in America, including violent criminals - succumbing to lobbying efforts by immigration advocates and business leaders, many of whom contribute huge sums of money to both political parties.
The pro-immigration lobby is strong and growing, assisted by various organizations, legal defense funds and churches, including the influential Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles, which denounced the Border Patrol arrests of 420 illegal aliens at inland Southern California communities.
At a press conference last month, the Rev. Michael D. Gutierrez, pastor at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Santa Monica, backed by three dozen priests from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, reminded Border Patrol officials that "some of your parents and grandparents also were immigrants and that the undocumented are also today your brothers and sisters."
Lack of leadership
ICE supervisors and agents are not only concerned about pro-immigration lobbying efforts and a lack of funding and manpower, but by what they called a lack of effective leadership in Washington that has failed to develop a clearly defined interior immigration-enforcement strategy.
But Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE, has downplayed the accusations, saying the agency is "committed to aggressively tracking, apprehending and removing fugitive aliens" despite limited resources and manpower.
Mr. Garcia thinks the ICE Office of Detention and Removal is where the agency has "the best opportunity to make the most progress," adding that he was looking to match resources with programs, based on budgetary priorities.
He also described the detention and removal program as the "final step" in the country's immigration-enforcement process, saying it is designed to promote public safety and combat immigration-related crimes "by removing individuals, especially criminals and other threats to public safety, who are unlawfully in the United States."
And the impact of those criminals aliens now loose in America is felt by most cities.
In Los Angeles, for example, more than 90 percent of all outstanding homicide warrants are for illegal aliens, and about 65 percent of the city's fugitive felony warrants involve illegals. In Phoenix, alien-smuggling operations last year resulted in a huge surge in home invasions and alien-related violent crimes.
"Our first and foremost priority has got to be criminal aliens," said Thomas M. Baranick, deputy field office director for ICE detention and removal operations in Phoenix. "They prey on the communities and represent a tremendous threat to the safety and security of the public."
Nationwide, the Justice Department says about 40,000 illegal aliens are being held in the federal prison system, about 25 percent of the prison population. They are the fastest-growing segment, and each inmate costs taxpayers about $21,000 a year to house.
But although ICE agents nationwide detain as many as 400 criminal aliens and absconders every day, nearly equal numbers of new fugitive aliens are added daily to the list, a turnstile that ICE wants to stanch with additional manpower.
In ICE's pending $4.01 billion budget for fiscal 2005, Mr. Garcia wants to expand the number of fugitive operations squads to 30 to eliminate "the existing backlog and growth of the fugitive alien population." Proposed staffing increases would raise the number of fugitive operations squad members from 200 to 400.
Immigration vs. enforcement
Many ICE supervisors and agents also blame the dearth of funding on the former INS leadership, which, they said, viewed illegal aliens as "clients instead of criminals." ICE took over responsibility for enforcing the country's immigration interior-enforcement laws in March 2003, when it was created as a part of the Department of Homeland Security and INS was dissolved.
During a recent press briefing, Mr. Garcia noted that the immigration authority under which INS operated had been replaced at ICE with a law-enforcement authority and the agency had made the removal of criminal aliens and absconders from the United States "a national priority."
The newer agency's detention and removal program focuses not only on removing criminal aliens from the nation's interior, but also on dismantling alien-smuggling rings, building partnerships to solve local immigration problems, minimizing immigration-document fraud and blocking employers' access to undocumented workers.
In the past year, ICE has arrested more than 3,200 foreign nationals and lawful permanent U.S. residents as suspected child molesters as part of "Operation Predator," a federal program targeting criminals who sexually abuse children. About half of those arrested were illegal aliens.
Mr. Garcia said the operation began after ICE investigators determined that many absconders in America had been convicted for sexual offenses, particularly crimes against children. He said under federal law, noncitizens who commit such crimes are to be deported.
To date, fewer than 500 of those arrested in the past year have been deported.
But the identification and removal of high-risk fugitive aliens and absconders from the United States remains the agency's key focus, ensuring that those already named as criminal aliens are removed from the country expeditiously .
Despite an ongoing lack of resources, many agents and supervisors within ICE's detention and removal program think the March 2003 creation of ICE brought renewed life to long-ignored and historically underfunded enforcement efforts.
"We are the support part of this organization and haven't always gotten the manpower and resources we've needed," said J. Michael Vaughn, supervisory detention and deportation officer at the Los Angeles processing center, which processes between 3,000 and 4,500 illegal aliens a month.
"I think that's changing, and the numbers are beginning to turn around for us," he said.
Even if the agency gets more resources and manpower, the agents say their efforts will continue to be hampered by policies protective of illegals, such as "sanctuary laws," that municipalities have adopted to prohibit their employees, including police officers, from enforcing federal immigration law.
The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has a long-standing policy known as "Special Order 40" that prohibits its officers from informing federal immigration officials about illegal aliens they discover during the normal course of their duties. Adopted by the department in 1979, the order is supposed to assuage the fears of illegal aliens that they may be deported if they seek assistance from local law enforcement.
The National Council of La Raza supports sanctuary laws, saying that allowing local police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws results in racial profiling, police misconduct and civil rights violations. The council also thinks the use of local police for immigration enforcement undermines community-policing efforts, undercuts effective law-enforcement and hampers anti-terrorism efforts.
Earlier this year, La Raza joined a class-action lawsuit to stop the government from entering immigration information into the National Crime Information Center, which includes data on felons, fugitives and others being sought by federal law enforcement. La Raza said the data was being misused in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Sanctuary laws also are in place in varying degrees in major cities, including San Francisco; New York; Chicago; San Diego; Austin, Texas; and Houston. Several cities prohibit their employees from even asking about a person's immigration status.
On July 7, the House voted down an amendment by Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, that would have forced state and local police officers to report illegal aliens to federal authorities. Mr. King had sought to include the amendment as part of the Commerce-Justice-State Department appropriations bill.
"These so-called 'sanctuary' policies wreak havoc on communities, especially in situations where illegal immigrants commit crimes and should be reported ... and deported, but are not and are released to commit crimes again," Mr. King said.
He withdrew the amendment after no members rose to support it. It was opposed by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Appropriations commerce, justice, state and judiciary subcommittee, who said it had no place on the commerce appropriations bill because immigration is a homeland-security function.
ICE agents and supervisors overwhelmingly are opposed to sanctuary laws, saying the inclusion of the country's 650,000 state and local police officers in the situational enforcement of immigration law would be a boon.
They refer to it as a "force multiplier," saying state and local police often have the first opportunity at identifying criminal aliens and absconders during traffic stops, field interrogations and arrests. They also said sanctuary laws encourage illegal immigration and offer shelter for would-be terrorists by allowing illegal aliens to establish themselves as residents.
Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, said ICE needs help in capturing thousands of convicted aliens now loose in America and wants Congress to pass pending bipartisan legislation to address what he calls "America's criminal-alien crisis."
"Sending 2,000 federal agents into the field to find 80,000 criminal aliens is like trying to stop a tidal wave with hand towels," he said. "It's a farce, it doesn't work, and the outmanned folks at ICE - as the numbers now show us - are simply drowning."
The five-term congressman has introduced the Clear Law Enforcement for Alien Removal Act, or CLEAR Act, that would, among other things, give 650,000 state and local police officers authority to enforce immigration law. The pending bill has 115 co-sponsors of both parties and has been endorsed by more than 50 law-enforcement agencies.
"America's men and women wearing the badge and making our streets safer deserve better than a dangerously inefficient and unresponsive immigration system that asks them to arrest and re-arrest any number of 80,000 criminal aliens that our failed federal system put there to begin with," he said.
But the bill remains stalled in committee.
'Knock and talk'
ICE supervisors and agents also noted that an important issue facing the fugitive operations squads is the matter of the warrant under which they operate in detaining fugitive aliens. Known as an "administrative warrant," they said it does not have the same legal weight as a court-ordered bench warrant.
The administrative warrant, they said, allows the agents to "knock and talk," but doesn't require the targeted fugitives to allow them to enter their houses or to even answer the door.
"That fact is certainly getting around, particularly among the gang-bangers and the Spanish-language newspapers here," said one Los Angeles team member. "Pretty soon when we knock and ask if they want to talk, they're going to say no."
ICE administrators have recognized many of the problems facing the agents it assigns to capture criminal aliens and absconders. A 48-page strategic plan known as "Endgame," released in June 2003, described the current workload for the agents as "daunting," adding that the capture of criminal aliens and absconders was "manpower intensive."
"The success of the mission relies heavily on available human resources and their capabilities," the plan said, calling for the ICE Office of Detention and Removal to "work diligently" to close the gaps between its work force and the demands for service.
In March, Mr. Garcia told the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security that he needed funding increases to allow ICE to continue its commitment, through the fugitive operations squads, to aggressively track, apprehend and remove fugitive aliens in the United States. He said he sought to eliminate an existing backlog over the next six years.
As part of their effort, ICE already has introduced "Operation Compliance," which seeks to identify foreign nationals who have lost an immigration appeal and were ordered removed. Begun in Connecticut and now operating in Atlanta and Denver, the program puts ICE agents in the courtroom to take into custody those who lose their immigration appeal.
Those detained remain in custody at ICE detention centers until their appeals are exhausted or they post bail. The program addresses the fact that fewer than 15 percent of those aliens ordered to an immigration hearing ever appear.
Immigration advocates have opposed the program and the American Immigration Lawyers Association [AILA], which boasts about 8,000 members, has sought information on potential clients "who have been detained" in its wake.
Marshall Fitz, associate director of advocacy for the AILA, said Operation Compliance groups illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes with those who have not - a reality he called "unfair." He called it a "blanket policy" that is in violation of basic due-process principles.
In Los Angeles, Mr. Field, a former INS senior agent who was assigned to ICE when Homeland Security was formed, said the "biggest problem we had before ICE was created was a lack of support." He said it was "difficult to do your job when you knew those who controlled your budget didn't care."
That lack of concern, he said, showed itself in the quality of equipment that the agents received to get the job done.
"It just wasn't there," he said. "But I believe they are now trying to address the problems, and it shows in the equipment we're getting ... including brand-new, fully equipped vehicles and consolidated radios frequencies, neither of which we've had in the past.
"I think they now know that the success of what we can do is a matter of funding, and I believe they are trying to address it," he said.
Several agents said the new ICE commitment for manpower increases has persuaded several veteran agents to stay with the agency, which they called important to fugitive squads that rely on experience to keep team members from getting hurt.
"There are tell-tale signs out here, like gang and prison tattoos, graffiti and gang affiliations, that can be dangerous if you are unaware of them," one agent said. "Most of it can only be learned through experience on the street. And it's that experience that can quickly turn around a potentially hostile situation."
Another veteran agent noted that the most dangerous part of the job is not always the targeted alien, but friends, family and associates who also might be at the house.
"We often find houses that are filled with people, mostly illegal aliens, sleeping shoulder to shoulder or under the stairwells," the agent said. "You never know what their intentions might be, and that can be very hairy."
Aliens hiding in plain sight: Once in U.S., illegals have little to fear
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, July 19, 2004
SALINAS, Calif. -- For years, Carlos lived in fear as he migrated from one farm to another, pursuing the cash that the picking of seasonal fruits and vegetables provided here in the fertile Salinas Valley. But as time passed, so did his anxiety.
"We were always watching out for the Border Patrol, and we were always afraid," said the 34-year-old Mexican national, chopping lettuce with 20 others. "But not anymore. We're out here everyday, and nobody ever bothers us."
Carlos, who came to America in 1996, is one of the estimated 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens living and working in the United States, who have no real fear of ever being detained or deported. And there's a good reason: No one's looking for them.
"If they can get by us - and a lot of them do - they know they can go underground, find a job and disappear - particularly in the several cities and towns across the country that have large Hispanic populations," said a veteran Border Patrol supervisor in Arizona.
"We get one chance at them, and if they elude us, they're gone."
A monthlong investigation by The Washington Times, which included interviews with immigration-enforcement officers from Washington state, California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, found that the vast majority of illegal aliens flooding into America - an estimated 1 million a year - draw little attention once they pass through the "border region," which extends about 60 miles into the United States.
A total of 2,300 federal agents are assigned the task of detecting, detaining and deporting the millions of foreign nationals illegally in this country, who - besides draining billions of taxpayer dollars a year - pose a potential terrorist risk in the post-September 11 world.
Nearly half of the 48 al Qaeda terrorists tied to violent acts in the United States between 1993 and 2001 committed significant immigration-law violations prior to those events but were never detained or deported, federal records show.
"Strict enforcement of immigration law ... is one of the most effective means we have of reducing the threat from foreign-born terrorists," said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.
Taxpayers each year spend more than $7 billion to educate the children of illegal aliens, $1 billion for health care and emergency treatment, and nearly $3 billion to detain illegal aliens in state and local jails, according to congressional reports and studies by immigration groups and several universities.
"Despite those costs, the country's interior-enforcement program historically has been neglected and understaffed," said Michael W. Cutler, a retired U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services [INS] senior agent who spent most of his 31-year career as a criminal investigator and intelligence specialist.
"Interior enforcement" is the term used to describe the routine enforcement of U.S. immigration law away from the nation's borders. It traditionally has included the apprehension of all illegal aliens, inspections for illegal employees at U.S. work sites and sanctions against employers who hire illegals.
"Even now, with as many as 12 million illegal immigrants in the country and a public clamoring for better immigration enforcement, the government has committed far too few agents to the task," Mr. Cutler said. "We have only been given the illusion of making a serious effort to enforce our immigration law."
Do the math: If the current roster of 2,300 agents dedicated to pursuing illegal aliens now in the country arrests 500 persons a day, an unattainable goal at current resource levels, it would take from 44 to 66 years to reduce the estimated 8 million to 12 million figure to zero - assuming, of course, that no new illegals enter the United States between now and 2070.
Those staggering numbers are of concern to many U.S. residents and immigration-enforcement groups, including the nonpartisan Washington, D.C.,-based CitizensLobby.com, which advocates stronger border security and increased immigration controls.
In a petition to Congress and President Bush, the lobby said the millions of illegal aliens in the United States pose a threat to national security and called on federal authorities, along with local and state police, to "enforce current immigration laws by apprehending and deporting all illegal aliens back to their country of origin."
Retired U.S. Army Col. Ben Anderson, whose Arizona-based Web site, "The Anderson Report," deals in part with illegal immigration, said a massive and ongoing invasion of foreign nationals into the United States through the Southwest border is the result of the government's failure to properly deal with border security.
"We attribute the lack of real effort to be political, and we fault both the Democrats' lust for cheap votes and the Republicans' lust for cheap labor," Col. Anderson said. "We fault the White House for pandering in a vain effort to glom onto the Hispanic vote."
But thousands of illegals enter the country every day, aided by a growing political movement that has guaranteed them not only a deportation-free environment but voting rights, driver's licenses, social services, housing assistance and in-state college-tuition breaks.
Vocal advocates, including 8,000 immigration lawyers nationwide, are trying to win permanent residence for the aliens, their spouses, children and other relatives and to represent U.S. businesses looking to employ foreign workers on both a temporary and permanent basis.
"Future immigrants should also be able to come here legally and safely, have access to permanent residency and not fear criminal prosecution for unlawful entry or exit," says the Oakland, Calif.-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Even Mr. Bush has proposed a guest-worker program that would give some form of citizenship status to millions of aliens illegally in the United States, and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has promised that within 100 days of his election, he will offer amnesty to most illegal immigrants who - like Carlos - have been in the United States for at least five years.
Mexico, the home of the majority of illegal aliens, already has made it easier for its citizens to live illegally in the United States by issuing "matricula consular cards" that can be used as legal identification and to open bank accounts in America.
Widely recognized by states and cities, along with dozens of police agencies, the FBI has said the cards pose a criminal and terrorist threat and are useful only to illegal aliens, because legal immigrants already have U.S.-issued documents.
'Matter of priorities'
Until March 2003, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the lead agencies in tracking down the rapidly growing underground of illegal aliens hiding in plain sight across America were the INS and the Border Patrol.
The job now belongs to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE], which - because of long-standing budgetary constraints - has chosen to focus its efforts on what it said will best protect the public in the age of terrorism and bolster America's security.
ICE's immigration priorities include the apprehension and deportation of the 80,000 criminal aliens in America, the arrest of alien smugglers and the dismantling of their operations, and the detention and removal of 320,000 "absconders," who are foreign nationals ordered deported who have disappeared.
"As a new agency under Homeland Security, ICE is committed to using its resources to ensure the safety of the American public," said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE. "But it is a matter of priorities, based on available resources and the use of those resources where we can have the biggest impact on public safety.
"There is no other option," he said.
The agency's interior-enforcement strategy, announced by Mr. Garcia in July 2003, does not address the detention and deportation of the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States - about 165,000 of whom are in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
But then it never has.
The new strategy essentially is the same one adopted by INS in the 1990s, which failed, although Mr. Garcia said agency executives - now under attack from many of ICE's rank and file for what they perceive as a lack of leadership and a clearly defined mission - are seeking to avoid making the same mistakes.
ICE and Border Patrol supervisors and agents said the INS interior-enforcement strategy often ignored its law-enforcement responsibilities in favor of servicing its administrative and management functions.
Mr. Garcia oversees 14,000 ICE supervisors, investigators, field agents, inspectors and support staff from U.S. Customs, INS, Federal Protective Service and Federal Air Marshals Service. The agency replaced the INS, which oversaw the Border Patrol and attempted, with little success, to direct the nation's interior-enforcement strategy.
The Border Patrol, now part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, immediately was moved out of America's heartland - where it successfully had targeted illegal aliens and the employers who hired them - and was given the primary task of protecting 6,000 miles of international border against terrorists, aliens and smugglers.
More than three dozen ICE and Border Patrol supervisors and agents, along with former INS inspectors and investigators, seriously questioned the government's manpower and resources commitment to interior enforcement during interviews at field offices and ports of entry in six states.
An ICE agent in California complained that although there were renewed efforts within the agency to locate criminal aliens and absconders, little work-site enforcement "besides some recent made-for-TV arrests" was being conducted. He and others said unannounced work-site inspections and large fines for employers who hire illegal aliens would drive down the demand for undocumented workers and reduce illegal immigration.
"I would like to think that work-site enforcement was an ICE priority, but it's not," said a Border Patrol agent in Texas.
Actually, fewer than 200 ICE agents nationwide are assigned to identify the thousands of employers who hire millions of illegal immigrants every year. And the number of companies fined for hiring illegal workers has plummeted: 1,660 from 1994 to 1998 compared with 440 from 1999 to 2003, according to INS records.
The amount of the assessed fines was $34.5 million during that 10-year period, but INS only collected $14.5 million of it.
Immigration-enforcement authorities and analysts think the Border Patrol's new forward-deployment policy, which moved the agents back to the border where they will arrest a million illegal immigrants this year, will be effective only if there is a corresponding reduction in employment opportunities through effective work-site enforcement.
"We're shoveling sand against the tide," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents the agency's 10,000 nonsupervisory agents. "The major draw for those who cross our borders is jobs, and until we can find a way to turn off that job magnet, people will continue to flock to this country.
"In Mexico, the average wage of the people we apprehend is $4 a day," Mr. Bonner said. "They can do much better by making that 100-yard dash into the United States."
Law-enforcement authorities and immigration experts think work-site enforcement began to collapse in 1993, at a time Congress and the White House - responding politically to rising public concern over increased illegal immigration - were turning their attention to border enforcement.
They said increased interior enforcement was not an option because neither Congress nor the White House wanted to deal with an avalanche of criticism from unions and employers who would have been exposed to fines and other sanctions - many of whom are huge political donors.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, supports the expansion of temporary visa programs for what it calls "essential workers" and has endorsed efforts to find a way to "earn legal status for the millions of undocumented workers already in the United States."
The chamber has encouraged Mr. Bush to "resume the migration negotiations" with Mexico interrupted by the September 11 attacks. In those talks, Mr. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox considered amnesty for 3 million illegal aliens in the United States and an abolition of laws barring U.S. employers from hiring border jumpers.
In January, Mr. Bush proposed a separate guest-worker program that eventually would legalize, without penalty, millions of aliens now in the country - making them eligible, but not guaranteeing that they could apply for permanent legal residence and citizenship.
Although ICE and Border Patrol supervisors and agents oppose guest-worker and amnesty programs, several pro-immigration rights groups, including the Service Employees International Union [SEIU], think the Bush proposal does not go far enough in meeting the needs of the millions of undocumented workers in the United States.
They said the plan is centered on the needs of U.S. employers and not the workers.
"Without an opportunity to earn full citizenship, 8 million immigrant workers and their families will be at the constant mercy of unscrupulous employers," the SEIU said. "This proposal allows hard-working, taxpaying immigrants to become a legitimate part of our economy, but it keeps them from fully participating in our democracy - making immigrants a permanent sub-class of our society."
SEIU said the Bush plan should allow illegal alien workers in this country to become permanent residents and should include legislation providing wage and labor protections, family-reunification provisions and a path to citizenship "for immigrants here and those to be admitted."
Congress approved an amnesty program in 1986 known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act [IRCA] that gave legal status to 2.7 million aliens. The program contained increased enforcement and penalty policies aimed at ending illegal immigration, although the illegal-alien population in the United States today is at least double - some say more than quadruple - the 1986 total.
Although Congress passed IRCA to deter illegal immigration, including sanctions for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens, Mr. Bonner said Congress failed to "give teeth to the law," instead relying on the good will of employers not to knowingly hire illegal aliens.
Mr. Bonner said employer sanctions and fines need to be re-enforced and increased to encourage businesses not to knowingly hire illegal aliens. He also said a new system needs to be developed to make it easier for employers to identify - or to be held responsible for - fraudulent documents.
"There are as many as 80 different documents a prospective employee can present to an employer that authorizes a person to work, all of which can be easily counterfeited," he said. "The government needs to come up with counterfeit-proof identification that will enable employers to immediately determine [that] a person has a legal right to work."
Dan Stein, executive director of the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, said U.S. employers learned by 1988 that INS was not going to hold them accountable under IRCA for hiring illegal aliens.
Mr. Stein said INS downgraded work-site enforcement operations even further in 1994 with what is now known as the Phoenix Plan, allowing the agency - after a review of a company's files - to give employers the option of firing those named as illegal aliens rather than conducting work-site raids to arrest and deport them.
"The INS defended this method of work-site enforcement as cost-efficient, palatable to employers and ultimately effective in causing the illegal aliens to go home," he said. "The problem with the Phoenix Plan approach was that the illegal aliens were still in possession of their counterfeit documents and were able to use them to illegally gain employment elsewhere."
The Phoenix Plan came at a time when the INS was telling its inspectors and Border Patrol agents that high-profile work-site enforcement operations needed to avoid "contentious circumstances" so that employers would not be inconvenienced - such as raiding restaurants at peak service times.
In 1996, Congress recognized that the employer-sanctions program was broken and passed the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act to counter the massive use by illegal aliens of fake documents. But the law did not include a system to verify documents, as proposed, only a pilot program to test the feasibility of document verification.
Three pilot programs have been tested since. Last year, Congress extended the pilot project for an additional five years.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, another agency within Homeland Security, has since created a new version of an employment- authorization card to serve as proof that a person is authorized to work in the United States. The card, to be produced at a rate of 24,000 a week, contains a magnetic strip, two-dimensional bar code and other features to help prevent counterfeiting and fraud.
But law-enforcement authorities said similar security features in other cards were quickly copied by counterfeiters. They said the massive use of phony documents has helped circumvent the very process INS designed to prevent illegal aliens from entering America and employers from hiring them.
Mr. Garcia wants to double ICE's work-site enforcement budget in fiscal 2005, which begins in October, from $20 million to $40 million, hiring an additional 200 enforcement agents. As of now, he said, the focus remains on critical infrastructure and those employers who place their workers in dangerous conditions.
During a recent press briefing, he said that with limited resources, ICE was "attacking the problem as we can, being realistic on what we have and how we can best use it."
Congress is debating the request.
Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims, said during an ICE oversight hearing that increased funding for work-site inspections was a "step in the right direction." But he called the 2005 request "a little bit like having two candles instead of one in a blackout... it's not doing near what we should."
Mr. Smith said if the government is unwilling to enforce employer sanctions, it will not be successful in reducing the number of available jobs, which he called "the largest magnet attracting" illegal aliens to the United States.
"We make it very, very easy in many, many ways for individuals to stay here who are here illegally," he said. "That is not the right signal to send if we are, in fact, serious about reducing illegal immigration in America."
GOP senators, officials back alien proposal: Call Bush plan 'bold step'
By Jerry Seper
The Washington Times, February 13, 2004
The administration rolled out its top immigration officials and several senior Republican senators yesterday to endorse publicly a guest-worker program offered by President Bush that could give legal status to the 8 million to 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States.
One by one, the officials and the senators told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and citizenship that the Bush plan, outlined Jan. 7, would fix a broken immigration system, allow U.S. businesses to hire needed workers, bring illegal aliens into the mainstream economy and assure greater homeland security.The president's proposal, which some Republicans say rewards lawbreakers and could lead to an election-year backlash from Republican voters against Mr. Bush, even drew support from Democrats.
"In announcing his proposal, President Bush recognized America's proud tradition of welcoming immigrants," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat. "He acknowledged the essential role that immigrants have had and continue to have in our nation's life."
Average Americans disagree more with government officials and other "elites" on immigration than any other foreign-policy issue. A January Zogby poll shows 74 percent of respondents oppose aiding undocumented workers.
During a packed subcommittee hearing in the newly reopened Dirksen building, Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security for the Department of Homeland Security, said the program was "a bold step, aimed at reforming our immigration laws, matching willing workers with willing employers and securing our homeland.
"Passing a temporary-worker program that works to benefit the American economy while bringing integrity to our immigration system is a reasonable goal for all of us," Mr. Hutchinson said.
Labor Department Deputy Secretary Steven Law said the Bush proposal would "bring undocumented workers out of the shadows into the mainstream economy, allowing them to more easily establish credit, invest and purchase items like appliances, homes and automobiles."
Critics, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports limited immigration, say passage of the Bush proposal will reward lawbreakers by allowing foreign nationals who illegally entered the United States to remain without penalty. They add that it will encourage future illegal immigration.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said America's borders would not be secure "until we supply willing employers with willing workers," while Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said the "only way" to solve the nation's immigration problem was to "create a dynamic program that recognizes the need for foreign nationals to come to this country to work."
Last month, Mr. Bush proposed, as a set of principles and not specific legislation, a broad temporary-worker program that would allow millions of illegal aliens now in the United States to remain during renewable three-year periods without penalty and, eventually, to apply for permanent legal residence.
Illegal aliens who could prove they were employed in this country on Jan. 7, the day the program was announced, could stay, even returning to their home countries and then coming back to their U.S. jobs.
The White House painstakingly has denied that the program offers "blanket amnesty," even though the aliens who gained entry to the United States illegally to obtain jobs - often with phony identification documents - will face no penalties.
Subcommittee chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, called for a "total overhaul" of the nation's immigration policies, saying the country needs to meet national-security requirements, economic interests and a manageable policy for how many foreign nationals are admitted each year.
"Many U.S. employers of aliens have difficulties in finding Americans to fill jobs performed by illegal aliens," he said. "Employers also have difficulty in determining who is legal and who is illegal due to the lack of verifiable documentation in the hiring process.
"This wink-and-nod cycle contributing to hiring illegal aliens must stop, while still providing a method for U.S. employers to gain access to the workers they need," he said.
Building on the "framework" outlined by the Bush guest-worker program, Mr. Chambliss said Congress needs to begin a legislative process toward immigration reform that would include:
* Sufficient resources to guarantee increased border security and interior enforcement, along with added penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens and for foreign nationals illegally in the country who do not work.
* A guest-worker program for foreign nations in the United States who have temporary jobs, as long as they do not displace U.S. workers.
* The issuance under a guest-worker program of work visas to foreign nations and not green cards, which would be unfair to those seeking legal entry to the United States.
* A guarantee that no one in the United States illegally has the same privileges associated with those here legally.
Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a branch of the Homeland Security Department, told the subcommittee that Mr. Bush had "courageously confronted a broken system, one that has been ignored for too long," adding that the president's guest-worker proposal would "facilitate economic growth, enhance national security and promote compassion."
**Copyright C 2003/2005 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times.