Testimony Before The Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims
May 5, 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 the dual missions of the immigration enforcement agencies. While my prepared testimony will focus on ICE, It is my understanding that the inspections program of CBP is similarly hobbled in its ability to enforce the immigration laws.
For decades our nation had the reputation of being the "can do" nation. If we could dream it, we could accomplish it. Our nation's entry into both World Wars ended with victory. When President John F. Kennedy challenged our scientists and engineers to land men on the moon and return them safely to the earth within less than a decade, we again rose to the challenge. Today, our nation is challenged by many problems. The one issue that impacts so many of these other issues, the enforcement and administration of the immigration laws, eludes our purported efforts at solving it. For decades, the immigration crisis, and it is, indeed, a crisis; has grown more significant and its repercussions have increased exponentially. We are waging a war on terror and a war on drugs. The immigration component of this battle, in which the lives of not only our citizens, but the survival of our nation itself is on the line, appears to be insoluble. I am here today to tell you that we can control our nation's borders and we can effectively administer and enforce the immigration laws from within the interior of the United States.
In order to gain control of our borders and our immigration program, we need to see it as a system. We also need to understand that the interior enforcement program is critical to gaining control of our nation's borders. Nearly half of the illegal aliens did not enter the country by running the border, but rather by being admitted through a port of entry and then subsequently violating the terms of their admission. They stay longer than the period of time for which they were admitted, they seek unauthorized employment or they commit felonies. Special agents are desperately needed to not only seek to arrest illegal aliens, but to conduct field investigations to uncover immigration fraud to restore integrity to the benefits program which has been historically plagued with high fraud rates. This is especially troubling as we wage a war on terror. The 911 Staff Report on Terrorist Travel made it clear that this dysfunctional bureaucracy aided the terrorists who wrought so much destruction upon our nation. The fact is that many of the managers of ICE appear more focused on traditional Customs-oriented investigations than they are on enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act to safeguard our nation from terrorists and criminals who have become adept at hiding in plain sight by making use of gaping loop-holes and deficiencies in the immigration bureaucracy that go undetected by the law enforcement agency that is supposed to enforce these laws.
Since the merger of Legacy INS and Legacy Customs into ICE, the new ICE special agents are no longer being given Spanish language training even though it has been estimated that some 80% of the illegal alien population is, in fact, Spanish speaking. It is impossible to investigate individuals you are unable to communicate with. Yet, this critical language-training program has been eliminated from the curriculum of the new ICE agents. I have to believe that this represents more than a simple oversight on the part of the leaders at the academy. It underscores an absolute lack of desire to enforce the critical immigration laws. If anything, our agents should be getting additional language training as we seek to uncover aliens operating within our nation's borders who are a threat to our well being. Strategic languages such as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu should be added to the curriculum along with Chinese, Korean and other such critical languages. Yet at present, the curriculum not only fails to mandate any foreign language training, it doesn't even offer any foreign language training.
Identity documents are the lynchpins that hold the immigration program together, yet incredibly, while other law enforcement agencies provide in-service document training to their personnel to help them recognize altered or counterfeit identity documents, ICE does not.
Immigration law training is similarly not as effective as it needs to be.
Besides the extreme lack of resources that has been focused on at previous hearings, we need to make certain that the people in charge of the enforcement of the immigration laws have a true understanding of the laws and have a clear sense of mission that many key managers appear to lack. At present, nearly every field office of ICE is headed by a Special Agent-in-Charge who came from the United States Customs Service and not from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service. The immigration laws are highly complex and require that the executives who are charged with leading the enforcement effort have a thorough understanding of the laws that they are responsible for enforcing. They should have real-world experience in investigating and aiding in the prosecution of criminal organizations that produce fraudulent documents, promote fraud schemes to circumvent the immigration laws, engage in large-scale human trafficking or the smuggling of criminal or terrorist aliens into the United States. They should also have real-world experience and understanding of the ways in which proper enforcement of the immigration laws can synergistically act as a force multiplier when ICE agents team up with law enforcement officers from other federal agencies as well as local and state police departments. The effective enforcement of immigration laws can help to cultivate informants to facilitate not only investigations into immigration law violations, but violations of laws in many other areas of concern including narcotics investigations, gang investigations and terrorism investigations.
The current lack of leadership that is experienced in immigration law enforcement, the lack of effective training and the previously examined, lack of resources have been disastrous for the enforcement of the immigration laws, thereby imperiling our nation and our people.
It is vital that there be real accountability and real leadership where immigration is concerned. While Customs and Immigration were both border enforcement agencies, the border is where their similarities begin and end. I would therefore strongly recommend that the law enforcement officers who are charged with enforcing the immigration laws have a dedicated chain of command with a budget and training program that focuses on immigration. Certainly they can and should work cooperatively with the former Customs enforcement agents, but they need a separate identity in order to make certain that the current "Customization of immigration law enforcement" stops immediately for the security of our nation. The enforcement of the immigration statutes needs to be the priority and not an after-thought.
I look forward to your questions.