Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims
March 11, 2004
Michael W. Cutler
Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies
Chairman Hostettler, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, distinguished members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen. I want out to start our by commending Chairman Hostettler's courageous leadership in the vital area of immigration law enforcement. It is my belief that nothing will have a greater impact on the future of our nation than the way in which we handle this critical issue; consequently I am honored at having been invited to participate in this hearing.
The issue of immigration law enforcement is one that I have been involved with for some 30 years, the length of my tenure at the former INS. I began my career an immigration inspector, was detailed as an immigration examiner - now known as an adjudications officer and then, in 1975 I became a Special Agent.
I am a New Yorker. On September 11, 2001, ashes from the conflagration at the World Trade Center fell on my house. I have a vivid recollection of the many yellow ribbons that were tied to the trees in front of many of my neighbors houses in the days that followed the worst terrorist attack ever committed on our nation. I also vividly recall the numerous cars that drove by bearing the photos of so many of the victims of the Trade Center attack with variations of the same plaintive question written below or above the photographs, Have you seen my mother? Have you seen my son? Have you seen my wife? Have you seen my brother? The people who tied the ribbons on the trees and pasted the photos on the windows of their cars were hoping and praying to one day find their missing loved ones. We know, of course, that their hopes were not realized.
The sights I have mentioned and the smells of the fires that burned for quite some time after the attack will never leave my memory- they will never leave my heart. The look of rage, sadness, fear and pain etched on my neighbors faces will stay with me for the rest of my life. The sight of the location we used to refer to as the World Trade Center that we now call, Ground Zero continues to trigger in me, and my fellow New Yorkers, a profound sense of loss and grief and anger.
We are constantly reminded that we are in a state of war. Many of our nation's valiant men and women, many of them scarcely old enough to vote, go in harm's way as members of our armed services, to help wage a war on terrorism, some of whom return home seriously injured or worse. I laud their bravery. The war effort is also costly in financial terms as well as human terms. But we must match the efforts of our soldiers fighting in distant lands with a commensurate effort within our own borders. The men and women who are responsible for enforcing our immigration laws need to have the resources to do an effective job.
Of late we have heard some people question if the immigration laws can be enforced. They say that we have tried to enforce the laws but even with the additional Border Patrol agents now standing watch on our nation's borders we still have many millions of illegal aliens living and working in the United States today. I would say to them that we have, to date, only been given the illusion of making a serious effort at enforcing our immigration laws.
Before the merger of the Immigration and Naturalization Service with the U.S. Customs Service there were some 2,000 INS Special Agents enforcing the immigration laws within the interior of the United States. Let us put this in perspective. New York has some 8 million residents. These residents are confined to the five boroughs that comprise the City of New York. Our mayor has said that New York is the safest big city in the United States if not the entire world. I believe that he is right. The reason we have a safe big city is that those 8 million residents are policed by a police department that, from what I have read, has some 38,000 police officers. The United States is estimated to have anywhere from 8 million to 14 million illegal aliens who are scattered across a third of the North American Continent and they have been policed by some 2,000 special agents! What do you suppose would happen to New York's crime rate if 36,000 members of the NYPD resigned tomorrow? Perhaps you now understand why we have the magnitude of the problem we have, where immigration law enforcement is concerned. According to recently published statistics, there are some 400,000 aliens still living and working within our nation's borders even though they have been ordered deported. From what I have read, some 80,000 of these aliens have serious criminal histories. How can we expect so few agents to effectively deal with so vast a problem?
While only a small percentage of aliens become involved in serious criminal activity, a large percentage of our criminal population is, indeed, comprised of aliens. In addition to terrorists, our nation is plagued by criminal aliens who are involved in narcotics trafficking, ethnic organized crime organizations, and other areas of criminal activities whose actions result in many more lives being lost each and every year than were lost in the horrific attacks of September 11. Half of the illegal aliens in the United States did not succeed in entering the United States by running the border but rather entered through a port of entry and then, in one way or another, violated the terms of their admission. This was, I would remind you, the way that the 19 terrorists who attacked our nation entered our country. If we want to reduce the numbers of illegal aliens in our country and secure our nation against the criminal intentions of terrorists and other criminals, we need to change the way we do business. It will require the expenditure of additional funds, but to not take the appropriate actions will, ultimately, cost our country far more. Law enforcement is labor-intensive work and we desperately need many more special agents to enforce the immigration laws from within the interior.
We need many more Border Patrol agents to properly patrol the thousands of miles of borders. As I am sure Mr. Bonner will attest, the job of a Border Patrol Agent is frustrating, and that our agents are put in harm's way often, only to arrest recidivists repeatedly.
We also need many more adjudications officers and immigration inspectors to do a more effective job of ensuring that applications are correctly adjudicated in a timely manner. I have been told that each adjudications officer is expected to process some 40 applications for benefits each and every day to get a passing grade on their evaluations. I have also been told that the average naturalization examiner is expected to process between 20 to 25 applications for United States citizenship each and every day. We have so truncated the process that applicants for United States citizenship are no longer required to provide two witnesses to attest to the fact that they possess good moral character. Nor are background investigations conducted in support of applications for United States citizenship. Additionally, there is no routine effort to conduct field investigations in conjunction with applications for the conferring of Lawfully Admitted, Permanent Resident status on aliens. Is it any wonder that we often find that the fraud rates are as high as they are in the benefits program? I would recommend that perhaps retired INS annuitants or retired law enforcement officers from other agencies such as local police departments should be hired to act as compliance officers to lend integrity to this critical process.
Immigration inspectors are expected to determine the admissibility of an alien applying for admission to the United States in approximately one minute. We have in place a visa waiver program, which means that we do not have the ability to effectively screen aliens seeking admission to the United States from the 28 visa waiver countries.
Consider that Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber was traveling on a British passport and would have been exempted from the requirement of obtaining a visa before applying for entry into the United States. If citizens of the United States can be inconvenienced by being thoroughly searched before they board airplanes, if they can be made to wait on long lines of traffic before crossing bridges and tunnels at times of elevated threat levels, then why aren't we requiring that aliens, who have no inherent right to be here, be more effectively screened in the interest of national security? The effective screening of alien visitors would, in my humble opinion, decrease the number of aliens who ultimately violate the terms of their admission and potentially threaten our well-being and security.
For years the former INS was plagued by an incredibly high attrition rate. Funds that might have been put to far better use were squandered on a veritable revolving door in which the agency continually recruited and trained qualified young men and women who came to the INS highly motivated to serve their country but who quickly became disillusioned by the inept leadership of the agency and resigned so that they could pursue satisfying careers at other agencies. No one at the INS seemed to care that so many talented and motivated employees were fleeing to other agencies. If we are to run a more cost effective agency, management at ICE, CIS and CBP must be made accountable for the attrition rate of the respective offices to which they are assigned. This would save significant money and result in a more effective and motivated workforce.
Law enforcement relies on the principle of deterrence to provide the most bang for the buck. The abysmal reputation that our nation has gained over the past several decades in terms of our ability and determination to enforce the immigration laws deters few if any aliens who would come here, either in violation of our laws or with the intention of violating our laws after they enter our country. It is said you get only one opportunity to make a first impression. The way that we enforce and administer the immigration laws serves as the first impression many people throughout the world have of our nation's resolve to enforce our laws.
We must do better.