Interior Immigration Enforcement Resources

By Michael W. Cutler on March 10, 2005

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims

March 10, 2005

Michael W. Cutler
Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies

Chairman Hostettler, Ranking member Jackson Lee, distinguished members of Congress, members of the panel, ladies and gentlemen. I welcome this opportunity to provide testimony today on the critical issue of interior immigration enforcement resources.

A country without secure borders can no more stand than can a house without walls. The task of securing America's borders falls to the dedicated men and women of CBP and ICE. These law enforcement officers are often put in harm's way as they try to prevent aliens from gaining unauthorized entry into our country. They are not succeeding in this vital mission as evidenced by the millions of illegal aliens who currently live within our nation's borders. This is not because of failings for which the employees of ICE or CBP bear the responsibility, but rather because our government has consistently failed to provide them with the resources they need to make certain that this basic job gets done.

The 9/11 Commission ultimately came to recognize the critical nature of immigration law enforcement where the War on Terror is concerned. In fact, page 49 of the report entitled, 9/11 and Terrorist Travel, A Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States contains a sentence that reads, Thus abuse of the immigration system and a lack of interior immigration enforcement were unwittingly working together to support terrorist activity. This page incidentally is contained in the chapter entitled, Terrorist Travel and Embedding Tactics. Acting on recommendations of the Commission, Congress authorized the expenditure of funds to enable 800 new special agents to be hired to enforce the immigration laws from within the United States for each of the next 5 years. I would actually argue that these new agents would not be enough especially considering the findings of the 9/11 Commission staff report I quoted. Therefore I am frankly at a loss to understand why the administration is not requesting at least as many new special agents as Congress authorized rather than the requested funding for the hiring of only 143 new special agents. I firmly believe that this represents a false economy and jeopardizes our nation's security.

Clearly the effective enforcement of the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States is critical for our nation to gain control of its borders and to protect our citizens from aliens who come to this country to engage in criminal activities and terrorism.

Our nation's inability and apparent unwillingness to enforce the immigration laws has caused our nation to pay a heavy price. As we know, on September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were launched within our borders by aliens who exploited various weaknesses in the immigration system. We must not think of the attacks of September 11 as being a single attack, nor should we think of the attacks as consisting of three attacks; the destruction of the World Trade Center, the destruction of a segment of the Pentagon and the downing of United Airlines Flight 93 in that field in Pennsylvania. I would ask that you think of those attacks as being thousands of separate attacks, because each of the nearly 3,000 lives that was so violently and horrifically ended was a precious and irreplaceable life. The loss of these lives to their families, loved ones and friends has forever altered their lives as well. Additionally, thousands more people were grievously injured, both emotionally as well as physically. The victims of 9/11 came from all over the United States and from many countries. No American city is safe if any American city is attacked. However, the specter of terrorist attacks is not the only price to be paid for our failure to secure our borders. Illegal immigration impacts more aspects of this country than does any other issue. It impacts everything from education, the economy, health care and the environment to criminal justice and national security. It has been estimated that aliens account for some 30% of the inmate population in federal correctional institutions. It is not unreasonable to say that more people lose their lives each year as a result of crimes committed by criminal aliens than were killed on that horrific day in September of 2001.

When he testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III testified that he is "very concerned" about the lack of data on a network of al Qaeda "sleeper" cells in the United States. He went on to say that, "Finding them is a top priority for the FBI, but it is also one of the most difficult challenges."

Sleeper agents are not like cicadas; they do not simply slip into our country and then burrow into a hole for months or years awaiting their instructions to emerge to carry out a deadly terrorist attack. Sleepers are, in fact, aliens who, upon entering our country, manage to hide in plain sight by finding a job, attending a school or doing other such ordinary things that do not call attention to them. Someone once said that an effective spy is someone who could not attract the attention of a waitress at a greasy spoon diner. The same can be said of an effective terrorist. It is vital that we regain control of our borders and the entire immigration bureaucracy and enforcement program if we are to protect our nation against terrorists and criminals. This requires that we have an adequate number of law enforcement officers who are dedicated to this critical mission.

I have read estimates that more than 40% of the illegal aliens in the United States did not evade the valiant Border Patrol agents who stand watch on our borders, but rather strolled through ports of entry intent on violating our laws. Many aliens find this to be a relatively easy endeavor. As you know, I speak from experience, having spent four years as an Immigration Inspector assigned to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York before I became a Special Agent for the former INS. The inspectors are supposed to conduct an inspection of an arriving alien in about one minute. In that brief period of time the inspector is supposed to examine the arriving alien's passport, compare the alien's name against a watch list to make certain that the person standing before him is not prohibited from entering the United States and then ask a few questions to try to determine the intentions of the alien seeking to enter our country. Of course, if serious questions are raised the inspector has the option of referring the alien to a section known as Secondary where a more intensive effort can be made to determine whether or not the alien in question should be admitted, but the pressure is on to quickly move the lines of arriving aliens. Additionally, the Visa Waiver Program further hampers the inspection process.

An adequate number of special agents is needed to back up the Border Patrol and the CBP inspectors.

There is another critical element to the interior enforcement of the immigration laws that is seldom discussed. The investigation of applications for immigration benefits to uncover fraud, which according to a GAO report issued three years ago, was a pervasive problem within the immigration benefits program. A terrorist bent on attacking the United States would most want three things in order to attack our country; money, a weapon of mass destruction and a United States passport to facilitate travel not only across the borders of the United States, but to also facilitate travel into many other countries. The 9/11 Commission found, in fact, that the ability to travel freely and extensively was essential to the terrorists of 9/11 as they prepared to attack us. Aliens who succeed in acquiring resident alien status can more readily embed themselves in our country and ultimately attain United States citizenship thereby making them eligible to receive that highly coveted United States passport. Immigration fraud enables aliens to avail themselves of that opportunity through deception and places such aliens on the road to United States citizenship. It is therefore crucial that we do a far better job of making certain that the immigration benefits program has real integrity.

While technology can and should play a role in enforcing the laws and helping to lend integrity to these processes, we must remember that law enforcement is a labor-intensive activity. Computers don't arrest law violators, law enforcement officers do. We can use computers for data mining to help uncover fraud, but again, it is the agent conducting field investigations who is most likely to uncover fraud or other criminal activities. While technology can be a force multiplier, in the end, without sufficient numbers of dedicated law enforcement officers and appropriate resources, including sufficient detention facilities, the job will simply not get done.

During the last Presidential campaign, Vice President Cheney aptly compared the attacks of September 11, 2001 with the attack on Pearl Harbor launched on December 7, 1941. I would like to point out that after the attack on Pearl Harbor our nation created fleets of aircraft that had never existed before. We created fleets of ocean going warships that had never existed before and we even created nuclear weapons that had never been constructed before. Less than 4 years after that terrible attack we defeated the enemy that was bent on the destruction of our nation, our allies and our way of life. The terrorists that attacked us on September 11 are just as determined to destroy us today. We are in the fourth year of our War on terror. Our resolve to win this war must be as strong as it was for those who fought World War II. We must do everything reasonable to secure our country's borders, and the time to act is now. Our nation's future hangs in the balance.

I look forward to your questions.