Mark Krikorian, Executive Director at the Center for Immigration Studies
Michael Cutler, former Senior Special Agent at the New York District Office of the INS
Jessica Vaughan, former Foreign Service officer and Senior Policy Analyst at CIS
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I am executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in town that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States. All our work, by the way, is online at our website, cis.org. The backgrounders that you have in the packets are there in their entirety, as well as everything else that we’ve done.
The second anniversary of 9/11, this month, plus the so-called Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, which is scheduled to arrive here next week, plus the circus in California, including the illegal alien drivers license issue that has figured so prominently, should prompt us to step back and ask what should be the first question in considering this matter: is it possible to enforce the immigration laws? Is there any way to prevent the establishment of a large illegal alien population, which is now estimated to be at about 9 million people?
Supporters of amnesties and guest worker programs and the looser immigration laws in general base their policy proposals on the basic assumption that the flow of people into the United States is an unstoppable force of nature, like the weather, so that the only path left to us is to lie back and pretend to enjoy it, to accommodate it as best we can. This is the intellectual premise of all the various sundry proposals in this area, not only The Wall Street Journal’s repeated calls for a constitutional amendment to abolish America’s borders – I’m not making that up – but even the less ambitious, though still vast, guest worker amnesty bill that Senator McCain and Congressman Kolbe and Flake have introduced, or the smaller farm worker amnesty, devised more recently by Senators Craig and Kennedy and Congressman Cannon.
Experience, however, shows us something very different, that even though it has indeed been difficult to enforce immigration law, the reason has been political obstacles, not any practical reason that it can’t be done. With a will to enforce the law present, we know perfectly well what to do, we know how to do it, and we can be certain that measures that we would take will yield substantial success.
The panel that we have convened today will examine this issue of immigration enforcement: can it be done, how has it been impeded in the past, what has worked, and what still needs to be done? And I was actually quite pleased that we were able to get such an expert panel on this.
The first speaker will be Michael Cutler. He’s a 30-year veteran of what, when he was in it, was called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He started out as an inspector, became an examiner, actually processing forms, and then later what is now called a special agent – a criminal investigator at the time – and has done a whole variety of immigration enforcement functions in his 30 years at INS, mostly in New York City. Has testified before Congress on this issue a couple of times, and actually may have to step out early to testify before the 9/11 Commission later this morning.
Our second speaker is Jessica Vaughan. She is a former consular officer with the Foreign Service, dealing with visas among other things, and now a senior policy analyst at the center, and author of one of the backgrounders in your packet about the three-year/10-year bar that Congress included in the 1996 Immigration Law, and how it’s fared in reality once it was administered, or not implemented, as the case may be.
Our third speaker is Craig Nelsen. He’s a director of a group called Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement, FILE, which is a network of people – law enforcement officers, prosecutors, state legislators and others – who are dedicated to re-establishing the rule of law over immigration in the United States. His organization prepared a backgrounder, that’s also in your packet, an alternative means of immigration enforcement that Congress provided before 1996, allowing competitors of companies fined for hiring illegals to sue them under civil RICO in order to get compensation for their unjust practices and inappropriate competitive methods.
And then finally I’ll wrap it up with some comments of my own about the issue and then we’ll have Q&A. So let’s start with Mike.
MICHAEL CUTLER: Good morning. We come here today to discuss if immigration law enforcement is possible. If we as a nation ultimately decide that the immigration laws are impossible to enforce, then perhaps we should simply declare anyone born on the planet Earth to be a citizen of the United States. The downside of that is that if we did that, the United States would rapidly cease to exist as we know it today.
That our leaders should even question whether or not we should seek to enforce the laws that govern the entry of aliens into our country, as well as their continued presence here, should be as disconcerting to you as it is to me. Just over two years ago our nation suffered a brutal heinous attack that is unparalleled in the history of the United States. Three-thousand innocent people lost their lives for engaging in mundane activities that were no more serous than going to work, or visiting their office, or taking a trip. The attackers were all aliens who managed to enter this country through ports of entry, appearing as innocuous as any other visitor, but apparently all the while seeking to wreak havoc on us.
A country without sovereign borders can no more stand than can a house without walls. We need to ensure that we maintain the sovereignty of our borders to secure the safety of our nation. As horrific as the attacks of September 11th were, I want you to consider another fact. From 1988 until 1992, I was the assigned INS representative to the Unified Intelligence Division of DEA in New York City. In that position I worked in cooperation with law enforcement personnel from virtually every federal law enforcement agency, as well as state, local, and other law enforcement personnel from other countries.
While I was in that assignment, I did an analysis of DEA arrest records. This analysis shows that some 60 percent of all individuals arrested in New York by DEA were identified as foreign-born. Nationwide, about 30 percent of the people arrested by DEA were identified as foreign-born. Those percentages remained constant for about five years, and I suspect they wouldn’t be much different today.
The violence that is attendant with the drug trade leads to the loss of many more people’s lives than the 3,000 people who perished on 9/11, and this is because of the crimes that are carried out within the borders of our country by drug traffickers. There’s also a nexus that exists between drug traffickers and terrorist organizations, as well as organized crime groups. And we also lose American lives because of people involved with ethnic organized crime organizations, and yet we have done very little to deter the criminal activities of these people operating within our borders.
Immigration law enforcement, at least in the minds of most people, including our political leaders, has been seen to be the sole domain of the Border Patrol. Indeed, the men and women of the Border Patrol perform a vital and dangerous service to our country. They are charged with the duty of standing watch along our nation’s thousands of miles of borders to attempt to interdict aliens who enter the United States without being inspected by immigration inspectors. This perspective concerning immigration law enforcement, however, is not accurate.
The Border Patrol is indeed a component of the immigration enforcement program, but it constitutes only one-third of what I have come to refer to as the immigration law enforcement tripod. A tripod stands on three legs. If we shorten one of the legs or remove one of the legs, then the tripod falls over. To fully understand immigration law enforcement, we must consider the other two legs of this enforcement tripod. The inspectors who comprise another leg of this tripod are trying to enforce the immigration laws at points of entry. And finally, the special agents constitute the third leg of the tripod, and they back up the other two operations and comprise the interior enforcement components of the program.
It is the interior enforcement program that has been ignored and neglected for decades. There are currently approximately 10,000 Border Patrol agents working for our government nationwide. Compare that number with the 2,000 special agents who are employed by the government to enforce the immigration laws from within the United States. Consider also the fact that it is currently estimated that of the 8-12 million illegal aliens believed to be living in the United States today, nearly half of them did not run the border but rather entered the United States through ports of entry, as did the terrorists. These aliens could not have been stopped by the Border Patrol because they were lawfully admitted into the United States, meaning that only once they became deportable it was only the special agents who had the authority and the wherewithal to go after them.
We also need to consider another important issue. Border Patrol agents have a specific and narrow focus. They are responsible for the interdiction of aliens attempting to run the border and to attempt to identify, investigate, and apprehend alien smugglers. Special agents have many more missions to carry out under their jurisdictions. They are supposed to seek out and apprehend aliens who have been deported for committing serious felonies and have subsequently illegally re-entered the United States. They are supposed to conduct investigations into immigration fraud. They are supposed to conduct investigations into alien smuggling. And they are also supposed to conduct investigations involving employer sanctions.
Additionally, the special agents are also supposed to work with such organizations as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, where I spent 10 years of my career, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Now, Congress has additionally mandated that we are supposed to also track foreign students in the United States to make certain that they go to the schools that they’ve been admitted to attend, and to implement a meaningful departure control program to make certain that people that are here for a limited time leave when they’re supposed to.
Now, additionally, it’s been announced that the new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement will also provide agents to serve as air marshals, and also back up the United States Secret Service protecting the President, the vice president, and visiting foreign dignitaries. And all this is going to be done with what will now become a force of 5,500 agents when we merge Customs in with the immigration agents. The thing that you need to realize also, though, is that when they merge Customs with immigration, you’re going to also be doubling the area of responsibility because now all these agents will need to enforce the customs statutes as well as the immigration statutes.
The only laws that I am aware of that are immutable are the laws of nature. Much as NASA might want to, I don’t know of anyone who has found a way to violate the law of gravity. The laws of man are very different, however. Mankind is imperfect, and consequently our efforts at crafting and enforcing laws fall far short from nature’s perfect example. Consequently, no law enforcement agency can hope to approach a success rate of 100 percent in enforcing the laws under their jurisdiction. Law enforcement, therefore, is most effective when it acts as a deterrent to would-be law violators. It is far better to prevent the crime than to solve the crime. If a law enforcement agency is to be effective as a deterrent to criminals who would violate the laws that come under the purview of that agency, then that agency must develop a reputation for being effective and motivated to do a consistent job of enforcing the law.
The reputation that the former INS garnered has deterred few criminal aliens from coming to the United States. What is truly unbelievable is that year after year the INS muddled along, showing little initiative to attempt to change its effectiveness or the public’s perspective of it. Many agents used to say that the INS had a condition that was 100 years old and unaffected by progress. At the INS, fraud ran rampant. The GAO recently reported that the fraud rate of the INS processing centers was running at about 90 percent. Criminal aliens ran rampant, and at the INS nothing changed except for the faces of the new agents who were recruited and trained at great expense and then left for more satisfying careers in other agencies.
Today, perhaps in part because of the abysmal track record, and also because of the politicization of the entire immigration system, politicians talk about creating another amnesty as a way to bring the massive illegal alien population out of the shadows, notwithstanding that this approach was tried before. World War I was supposed to have been the war that would end all wars, and the immigration amnesty program of 1986 was supposed to be the best way of getting illegal aliens out of the shadows and restoring a measure of credibility to the thoroughly dysfunctional administration and enforcement of immigration laws. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we now know that World War I led to World War II, and we know that the 1986 amnesty led to perhaps one of the largest influxes of illegal aliens into the United States. And yet there are people today calling for yet another amnesty.
At any other agency, efforts would be made to figure out how to turn the situation around, but at the INS it seems that the defeatists were willing to break out the white flag and surrender. We need to learn from our mistakes. The problem is that we seem to be incapable of that. We seem to be more concerned with encouraging aliens to come to our country than we are safeguarding our nation and our citizens. Currently there is a visa waiver program in place that allows aliens from 27 different countries to enter the United States without first obtaining a visa, so that consular officers working for the State Department overseas would have an opportunity to more thoroughly screen those aliens who seek to come here.
When I was an immigration inspector in the mid-1970s, all aliens were required to obtain visas before coming to the United States, with the exception of citizens of Canada, Bermuda, and the United Kingdom, where the citizens of United Kingdom had landed immigrant status in Canada. We seem unwilling to inconvenience alien visitors who have no inherent right to be here, but yet when it comes to our own citizens, in the name of security we’re often forced to wait behind long lines of cars, trucks, and buses while security searches are conducted during times of elevated threat levels.
No one seems to be concerned about inconveniencing our own citizens within their hometowns, but we seem determined to speed the flow of aliens into our country, even if it compromises our security. The halfway measure requiring that aliens from these 27 visa-waiver countries first acquire machine-readable passports containing biometric identifiers has incredibly been postponed yet another year. We need to bring the visa waiver program to an immediate end so that we can more effectively vet aliens seeking to enter our country.
I cannot think of anyone who would open the door of their home to a visitor without first looking through the peephole to determine if the visitor should be allowed in. The United States should do the same in deciding on whether or not to admit somebody.
The government of Mexico is now engaged in a program of issuing documents known as matricula consular documents to enable illegal aliens to obtain drivers licenses, open bank accounts, and do all of those things that would normally be reserved for United States citizens and aliens who are living lawfully within the United States. That the Mexican government is doing this is no surprise. What is very surprising is that the aliens who have possession of these documents are being allowed to use them within our country, notwithstanding the fact that anyone carrying such a document is in effect conceding that they are living illegally in the United States. One of the goals of deterrence is to deprive anyone who is violating the law the feeling of security if he acts in a fashion that violates the law. The acceptance of these documents runs contrary to this basic principle of law enforcement.
I want to make one thing clear. I’m not a xenophobe. I am in fact the son of an immigrant. My mother came to the United States before the onslaught of the Holocaust. Had the United States not opened its doors to her, more than likely she would have perished along with my grandmother, who in fact did die. In fact, I’m named for her. I have no problem with aliens who come to the United States in accordance with law to share in the American dream. I do have a problem, however, with aliens who come to the United States in violation of law and are helping to create America’s nightmare.
Thank you for your time.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Mike. Next is Jessica.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: Thanks. I’m going to focus my remarks on a different kind of immigration law enforcement than Mike was describing, although it shares many of the same characteristics. I’m going to focus my remarks on the immigration benefits law enforcement. It’s similar, and that is visas, green cards, and the dispensing of – if you really want to embrace the current DHS parlance, you would call them our immigration products, as they do. And it’s similar in that the people who are responsible for this kind of enforcement are trying to identify those who are entitled and those who are not entitled to receive those benefits. It’s also similar in that to be really successful, what you want to do is try and not necessarily catch everybody, but to deter fraud and to encourage people to make the right choices, legal choices.
One of the main differences is that many of the officials who are charged with this responsibility are trained to not actually think of themselves as having an enforcement mission, but rather having a service-providing mission. So that sometimes makes it difficult to accomplish what you want to accomplish in terms of enforcement.
I’m going to tell the story of two different enforcement efforts, one of which, the 3-year/10-year bar, the subject of a backgrounder that I wrote recently, is a policy that’s still in effect technically but has been almost a complete failure. The other is a policy that was started a few years back, that in fact was every effective, and that’s why it got canceled. I think there are a number of other enforcement efforts now that we’re undertaking that do show some promise. Then at the end I’ll try and mention a few things, a few ingredients that are necessary to successful immigration benefits law enforcement efforts.
On the 3-year/10-year bar, which was instituted back in 1996 as part of a big piece of immigration legislation, Congress decided for the first time to actually impose a penalty for being here illegally. The goal was to deter people from coming here illegally who had reason to believe that they would eventually qualify for a green card. They wanted to encourage people to wait their turn overseas and do this through the legal way instead of just jumping in line. The idea was to impose a bar on eligibility of either 3 years or 10 years, depending on how long you’d been here illegally. At the time people feared that this would apply to millions and millions of people; at the time there were about six million illegal aliens living in the country.
In fact, even after four years of the program, as it turned out, only about 12,000 people actually were barred or were affected by this legislation, and at the same time – and this is a conservative estimate – at least 600,000 illegal aliens were able to obtain green cards. In the meantime, the illegal population grew by over 2 million people.
So what went wrong? First of all, this was an initiative that came courtesy of Congress, which has a long history of enacting legislation that sounds really tough but turns out to not actually be that tough. That’s what happened in this case. In fact, they decided that this bar would only apply to people who actually left the United States – who were here legally and then left for some reason. So that actually encouraged people who were here illegally and who wanted to obtain a green card to stay instead of to leave.
Then, once Congress realized what it had done, it became horrified that this might actually apply to a lot of people, so they decided to enact a series of amnesties that allowed literally millions of people to escape the reach of this legislation. I’m referring to 245(i) and then later the LIFE Act of 2000. At the same time, senior INS management decided that it wanted to be as generous as possible in administering the amnesties, so that pretty much anybody could benefit from them regardless of the strength of their claim to eventually qualify for a green card.
So, the result was that so many people applied for these amnesties that the INS just became completely swamped in the number of applications and petitions that it received, millions and millions of them, to the point that they are still paralyzed by this workload that they brought on themselves and that Congress handed them with these amnesties. If you look at the workload statistics now, there are something like 5 million pending cases of applications and petitions for immigration benefits. Not all of those are for green cards. I think it’s more like two to three million in the backlog. And the result is that you have all these people who are in this sort of limbo-like status of are they illegal or are they legal? They don’t have their green card yet, but on the other hand they might get one some day. So nobody knows really what to do with them in terms of enforcement. So that complicates matters.
The other example that I’d like to talk about is something that came about not as a statute enacted by Congress, but was the idea of a brand-new junior officer in the Foreign Service who was stationed in Paris in the mid-1990s. It’s a different kind of a program but still interesting and has a lot of lessons.
One of the things about immigration benefits is that it’s sometimes really hard to figure out, in the limited period of time that you have available, who actually is qualified to receive the visa or the green card. And now it’s probably easier to identify known terrorists because we track them on databases, but there are a lot of other reasons why you would not qualify for a green card; for example, if you have been dependent on social services. This fellow working in Paris realized that he was having a really hard time figuring out whether people were ineligible for reasons like that. So he decided to start calling social service agencies in the United States. He started with California. He found out that the state of California was very happy to provide him with this information, which was very relevant to his adjudication of the application.
Then this person went on in his next tour to serve in Manila, which is a much higher volume post in the Philippines. It’s known as a visa mill because of the number of applications that they process every year, and lots and lots of them are going to California, and lots and lots of the applicants have spent time in California. So he really got a lot of great information from California, MediCal officials in particular. Instead of just using it to do green card applications, he also started checking on people who were applying for temporary visitors’ visas, and uncovered tons and tons of fraud, including one notorious case of a Philippine Airlines pilot who was basically bringing his child over for regular leukemia treatments in the California hospitals, completely free.
So this was working so well that all these other posts found out about the program and thought it was a great idea. There were three posts in Mexico which worked out an arrangement with the state of California to get this information. Then word kind of got out among people who were applying for green cards that the embassy was actually going to check to see if you had access to services to which you were not entitled, and people started deciding to pay back the amount of the services that they’d received, so all these checks started flowing in to the California treasury from all these people who really did want their green card and they didn’t want to be found ineligible. So all this money starts flowing in and California is really loving the program. The governor at the time went and visited the consulate in Manila and went around and shook everybody's hand because he loved it so much.
Then Texas decided that it wanted to sign up because it was working so well for California. At about that time, the front office of Consular Affairs got wind of it and pretty quickly sent out a cable to all posts saying, you’ve got to stop this now. And the reason that they gave was that it was taking too much time to do these checks. This was in spite of the fact that the state of California had actually offered to pay for the positions for people to sit and do the background checks. Then the Department of Health and Human Services got involved and said, you know, this is kind of a violation of people’s privacy to be checking on what services that they’ve obtained. So the program was, as I said, working so well that it ended, even though tens of thousands of people had been found ineligible and all the consular officers really liked it a lot.
I hope that some of the other programs that we’ve instituted recently, like NCRS and SEVIS, where we’re already starting to see some good results, do not go down the same road of being found so effective that they have to be canceled.
Now, what can we learn from these examples? I think that there are a few things, a few necessary ingredients for successful enforcement programs, and one of them is of course access to relevant information. You’ve got to give the people, the line officers, access to factual information that will help them adjudicate their cases. That can be done very easily now with technology. The other thing you have to have is some kind of human involvement in the process, so that basically that amounts to an interview in those cases. You’d be surprised at how infrequent that is in some application processes, particularly people who are applying from within the United States.
The other thing that’s necessary to have, that we learned from the successful asylum reforms in the mid-90s, was that you’ve got to have swift processing. You cannot allow the backlogs to grow because then you end up with this huge population of people in limbo that you don’t know what to do with. You’ve got to have cooperation of other government agencies, especially state and local governments, and you’ve got to give field officers freedom to experiment and figure out what works in the unique situations in which they find themselves adjudicating benefits. And of course most important, you’ve got to have a strong culture of enforcement that comes straight from the leadership that encourages people to try things that are going to work.
Things that get in the way every time, of course, are policies like amnesties, that will completely undercut all of your efforts by removing certain people from the reach of the law, and the other thing of course is allowing for these vague definitions of illegal, or illegal or temporary, that muddy the enforcement waters. You always need resources and people, of course, but there are things that can be done that are relatively low-tech that work pretty well.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jessica. And Craig will be next.
CRAIG NELSEN: Thank you. For 40 years polls have shown Americans significantly opposed to current levels of mass immigration. They’ve also shown strong support for firm enforcement of our immigration laws. Recent polls have shown citizen support for immigration law enforcement is as strong as ever. In 2001, a Zogby International Poll found that 76 percent of likely voters said the government was not doing enough to control the U.S. border. In a 2002 poll for the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 70 percent of Americans interviewed said that controlling and reducing illegal immigration should be a, quote, “very important,” end quote, policy goal. Seventy percent, which is, by the way, as opposed to only 22 percent of our nation’s elites; elites being defined as leaders from Congress, business, labor, religious and academic groups.
In 2003, a Roper ASW poll found that Americans agree, 85 percent, that illegal immigration is a serious problem. Eighty-three percent support mandatory detention and forfeiture of property, followed by deportation for anyone here illegally. And 88 percent agree that Congress should pass a law requiring state and local government agencies to notify both the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is now called ICE, and their local law enforcement agency, when they determine that a person is here illegally or has presented a false identification document. Eight-eight percent – it’s hard to think of a public policy issue where there’s so much support for one side of an issue. Clearly enforcement of U.S. immigration laws has the overwhelming support of the American people.
Yet in spite of all this public support, there seems to be a widespread disregard for immigration law and relatively very little enforcement activity. As a way of illustrating this, not too long ago a young man in Denver was featured on the front page of The Denver Post – he and his illegal alien family. The Denver Post ran this story as a very sympathetic story about how this young man needs in-state tuition for college, a local college. But they actually printed, in the paper, the family’s home address. The local Congressman, Congressman Tancredo, called the INS office in Denver, asking them what they were going to do about these illegal aliens outed in The Denver Post. The INS told him that they didn’t have the resources to go track down this family, even though the address had been printed in the paper. Of course, instead of the local media and commentators being outraged that our immigration laws were not being enforced, Congressman Tancredo was attacked as a bully, a xenophobe, a nativist, et cetera, mean-spirited.
Another example of lack of law enforcement is the matricula consular card I believe Mike mentioned earlier. Local newspapers will run photographs of huge lines of self-admitted illegal aliens lining up at Mexican consulates across the country getting identification cards from Mexico, and the local INS office is completely indifferent to it, even though they are admitted illegal aliens. In fact, one incident in San Diego, a family of illegal aliens was arrested near a Mexican consulate on their way to get a matricula ID card, and there was an outrage – the Mexican government lodged a formal complaint and the local INS office actually issued an edict to stop arresting people near Mexican consulates, which was thankfully later overturned thanks to public outrage.
But it’s not just the most basic of immigration laws and deportation that are not being enforced. Hosts of immigration laws are being ignored. Jessica mentioned the public charge issue. It’s illegal in this country for someone to come here and use our welfare system. The laws have been strongly on the books for many, many years. However, statistics show that there is a very high usage rate of welfare in this country by foreign nationals. In spite of this, since 1980 only 12 people have been denied entry into this country based on the public charge laws.
Employer sanctions. I think everybody in the room here probably understands that there is widespread disregard for the laws against hiring illegal aliens. Not only are the laws not being enforced, but thanks to our sanctuary policies and amnesties, there is almost an aggressive refusal not to enforce our immigration laws. We’ve got cities and states and municipalities and localities across the nation with policies in place that specifically forbid enforcement of U.S. federal immigration law.
The question before us, I guess, is why are we not enforcing the laws? As Mark mentioned earlier, the atmosphere in the country seems to be – or the climate seems to be that, well, we can’t; it’s just like this force of nature that is impossible to stop. Yet a recent example in the wake of 9/11, when young male immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring countries were required to register at the INS – which is, by the way, something they were already required to do, that all immigrants are required to do – just the threat of this registration was enough to cause huge numbers of illegal aliens from this country to leave on their own. So I think a lesson we can draw from this is that even this small step, this little effort, can have an enormous impact.
So it’s not really that we can’t enforce our immigration laws; I think we have to conclude that we won’t. And the question there is, why not? Is it the cynical politics of Karl Rove and Gray Davis and ethnic pandering? Is it the corporate Wall Street Journal cheap labor crowd that sees everything in terms of money? And these are questions that are difficult to answer. But in any case, we can conclude that the executive branch in this country and its agencies are not living up to their constitutional duty to execute the people’s laws.
Thankfully Congress provided a remedy not too long ago through RICO – the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO is a federal, criminal, and civil statute that the U.S. Congress enacted in 1970 in order to combat racketeering activity. Congress included a civil provision in the statute which gives anyone who has been injured by recent racketeering activity the right to sue in appropriate U.S. District Court. Congress included this right in order to enlist, quote, “private attorneys general,” end quote, in the fight against racketeering activity.
By USC 18 Section 1964, RICO allows private plaintiffs to seek compensation from any citizen or entity that causes injury to his business or property by engagement in a pattern of specific criminal acts called predicate offenses. Now, this is an extremely powerful tool, and it’s probably – as far as I know it’s the only law that allows private citizens to bring a suit in which the defendant can end up in jail. It’s a very strong weapon.
In 1996, Congress added violations of the Immigration and Naturalization Act to the RICO predicates and to RICO’s racketeering statutes. By Section 1961 of the USC 18, certain violations of the INA were considered predicate offenses, including smuggling illegal aliens, harboring them, hiring them, or encouraging them to remain illegally in the country. Now, part of the legislative intent of the RICO laws in general was to afford private citizens a remedy for lawbreaking when authorities normally charged with such enforcement become derelict in their duties. And I think this is clearly the case with immigration law today. The authorities who are charged with enforcing the law are clearly derelict in their duty, which is well illustrated by lines of illegal aliens standing in full view of our law enforcement officers outside of Mexican embassies, getting ID cards that will allow them to remain more easily illegally in the country.
This is precisely why the RICO acts were first implemented in 1996. Congress’ inclusion of violations of the Immigration and Naturalization Act showed a legislative intent is clearly here to allow private enforcement of the immigration laws.
Recently, there’s an attorney up in Chicago with a firm called Johnson & Bell, which has begun to bring, for the first time in the country, private suits under these new statutes, and he’s meeting with great success. Two cases, one called Commercial Cleaning Services v. Colin Service Systems, and another called Mendoza v. Zirkle Fruit Company, have shown two aspects in which the RICO laws may be used to enforce immigration laws. In Commercial Cleaning, one employer was in competition with another cleaning service which employed illegal aliens. Obviously the illegal aliens can work for less or do work for less than Americans, so one cleaning company had a clear competitive advantage by violating immigration laws. This suit was brought by Mr. Howard Foster and worked its way through the courts, overcame some challenges, some motions to dismiss, and finally the defendant successfully settled the suit out of court in the plaintiff’s favor.
The second is another kind of aspect here involving the hiring of illegal aliens, in which a woman named – I forget her first name – Ms. Mendoza, who’s a legal worker in the United States, her salary is being driven down because her employer was hiring illegal aliens, and she successfully, and some other workers – so far successfully; this one’s still in the court – has brought suit. And this suit, too, has survived some motions to dismiss, and the 9th Circuit just recently overturned the District Court. It’s gone back into the District Court and it looks very promising. And Mr. Foster tells me that there are other suits coming up that you’ll be probably hearing about soon that are also looking good. So in other words, the RICO statutes are available to competitors, employees, banks that for example don’t open bank accounts for illegal aliens could possibly bring RICO suits against banks that do open bank accounts for illegal aliens, and so on and so forth.
But the inclusion of the INA violations as RICO predicate acts in the 1996 immigration format was clearly an attempt by Congress to provide private citizens with recourse in the face of widespread disregard for immigration laws. If the intent of Congress bears fruit, the results could represent a drastic change in immigration law enforcement in the United States based on private interests as opposed to government enforcement. By providing a strong incentive for employers and businesses to stop engaging in illegal hiring and encouragement of illegal immigration for financial gain, there is hope to significantly reduce illegal immigration in the United States simply by working through the U.S. courts.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Craig. I wanted to just sort of wrap up and kind of put in context what we’re talking about. The issue of immigration enforcement is often presented as a Hobbesian choice: either we amnesty illegal immigrants in whatever form that amnesty takes, or we have to round up nine million people and drive them through the desert in the middle of the night and throw them out of the country. Neither one of those things is advisable or even feasible. Frankly, there’s a middle ground, and that’s what points us to the real solution, which is enforcement and attrition; in other words, squeezing the illegal alien populations so that more illegals who are here leave and fewer new ones come.
When we look at the numbers of the flow of illegal immigrants, we can see the beginnings of a realistic policy. Each year some 400,000 settled resident illegal aliens leave the illegal population. Some of them get green cards, because our legal immigration system even now is a kind of rolling amnesty for illegal aliens, but many of them leave voluntarily, go home. Others are deported. A small number pass away. So these 400,000 illegal aliens stop being illegal aliens, however that happens. The problem is that that is swamped by the fact that at least 700,000 new illegal aliens move and settle in the United States so that the population continues to increase.
So the solution is, increase the number of people leaving, whether it’s voluntarily or involuntarily, and decrease the number of new people coming in. And this can work. As Craig suggested, this isn’t just idle speculation of policy wonks. In the special registration program that took place earlier this year, where people from certain Middle Eastern countries had to register with the Immigration Service, the country on the list of countries that had the most illegal aliens here was Pakistan. The Immigration Service had estimated that in 2000 there were some 26,000 Pakistani illegals. Once it became clear that the government was actually serious about enforcing the immigration law, at least with regard to these people if not anyone else, Pakistani illegal aliens, most of them visa over-stayers, started streaming out of the United States. They went to Canada. They went to Europe. They went back to Pakistan.
The Pakistani embassy, for instance, estimated that some 15,000 illegals left. So we sort of have a rough guesstimate that maybe half the illegal aliens from Pakistan in the United States deported themselves, left on their own once it was clear that there was even this minimal effort to start enforcing the immigration law. The Washington Post reported – the adjective they used was the “disquieting” fact that the little Pakistan neighborhood in Brooklyn was emptying out, that business was down, the mosque was one-third empty, there were fewer want ads in the Urdu language newspaper, and for-rent signs were sprouting up everywhere because the illegal aliens were leaving. I wouldn’t use the adjective “disquieting,” but clearly it can work. I mean, this is not fantasy.
This really points to the idea of using the broken-windows policing concept with regard to immigration. When the sense that the government is no longer enforcing order begins to spread, you get more and more lawbreaking. And the reverse of that is what we saw under Rudy Giuliani in New York, which is enforcing the sense of control even in minor matters – jumping subway turnstiles, graffiti, that sort of thing – does two things. First, it actually gets real bad guys because murderers and rapists are also going to jump the turnstiles, but it more importantly spreads a sense of order, that the government is in fact in charge, that the law is something that needs to be taken seriously.
To take only one example of where this isn’t happening and could, something that I saw just a few weeks ago. The Border Patrol in the mid-1990s unveiled a new digital fingerprint system so that everybody they arrested on the southern border would be fingerprinted. The point of it was to track repeat crossers. The problem of course was that the U.S. attorney’s offices along the border that would be prosecuting the repeat crossers kept raising the number of times you had to be apprehended before you would be prosecuted so as not to end up with anybody that they would prosecute. They kept getting illegal aliens that had crossed five and 10 times. Well, then they kept raising it to six or 11 times before you would be prosecuted. Essentially this effort has not yielded the results that it needs to yield.
It’s hard to exaggerate the demoralizing effect such disregard to the law has on the staff of the Homeland Security Department, the immigration staff. And the opposite is true as well. I recently met with some deportation officers in Los Angeles formed into what’s called a fugitive operations team, where they actually were tasked with going after bad guys who were eluding the INS. They had some gripes, as everybody does, but overall they were actually excited about coming to work in the morning because they had political support. It was very clear to them from their superiors – it was made clear to them that what they were doing was important, was worthwhile, and when they captured the people that they were supposed to capture, they weren’t going to get in trouble for it, that they weren’t going to be punished for doing their jobs. And the results showed. The team that I met with had apprehended three of the 10 Most Wanted aliens list that was initially released in May by the Homeland Security Department.
The initiative that would yield the most bang for the buck, as several people have mentioned, is enforcement of the ban of hiring illegal aliens; employer sanctions is the jargon term for it. Ideally, we need a verification system so that employers can use a Web-based system to determine whether their new hire is legally here or not. That’s going to take some time to develop. The Immigration Service has some pilot programs to this end. They actually seem to work pretty well, but rolling out a national system is going to take time and is going to meet some speed bumps, especially since the Homeland Security Department is already dealing with developing a system to track entrants and – entries and exits at airports, assisting to track foreign students, so the immigration authorities have a lot of work ahead of them.
But in the meantime, there’s no reason to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are a lot of other things that can be done to enforce employer sanctions that don’t require the installation of new computer systems. For instance, the Social Security system sent out about 1 million no-match letters last year; in other words, letters to employers who had submitted Social Security numbers for employees that didn’t match other information. For the most part, those were illegal aliens. There are going to be a few people where there are mistakes and such, but basically these are letters to employers telling them that this person is an illegal alien that you hired.
It actually worked pretty well. Employers were saying, well, prove to me you’re not an illegal alien because the Social Security Administration has told me that you are, and they ended up laying off large numbers of illegal aliens. It was actually serving its purpose. And as Jessica suggested, for precisely that reason it has been essentially discontinued, and this year the Social Security Administration is going to send out a radically smaller number of these no-match letters.
Another example was just in the newspaper yesterday or the day before. The Internal Revenue Service has announced that it’s looking into sharing information from tax returns, specifically from people who file using what’s called the individual identification number, which is in place of a Social Security number, largely used by illegal aliens, though not necessarily, and sharing that information with the Homeland Security Department.
If past experience is any guide, it will work and then it will be stopped, precisely because it succeeds in deterring illegal aliens from working. The same principle needs to be applied to other procedures. For instance getting a drivers license ought to require proof of legal status. Registering a car, opening a bank account, getting a car loan or mortgage loan, enrolling in higher education, getting a business and occupational license. There are a variety of other measures that are relatively simple, relatively low tech that would result in enormous bang for the buck.
But really, listing the possible tactics almost is beside the point because it’s the will to control immigration that has been lacking, even at this late date, and it will be unfortunate if the lives of more of our countrymen are sacrificed, not to mention continuing harm to the public and to unskilled American workers before we muster the will to do what we have in our power to do already.
With that I will open the floor to questions. If you would please identify first yourself, and then also if you have a specific person you want to direct the question to.
Q: Steve -- (inaudible). A question for Jessica on benefits. I know earlier in the year and earlier this month there was a hearing about the administration’s idea of totalization of Social Security benefits with the government of Mexico. I was wondering if you would comment on that.
MS. VAUGHAN: Well, I haven’t looked into it in great detail, although at first blush it sounds horrifying to think about the number of people who could potentially qualify under some of the proposals that have been circulated. We do have these agreements with a lot of other countries, but the migration relationship with those has been completely different. There is no case in which there have been so many people who could potentially qualify and so many people who were living and working in the United States illegally who could potentially qualify for that.
Again, I haven’t looked at the programs in great detail, but I think the GAO did and decided that nobody had really done their homework and figured out what the true cost of that would be. So it certainly needs a little bit more study before we can even contemplate signing something like that.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Bob.
Q: Bob Lake of the Nixon Center. I’d like the panelists to comment on whether there is a contradiction between counter-terrorism, national security, and immigration control. Several of you have mentioned NCRS and some special registration program. If we have the immigration officers focusing on an entry-exit system, or in the case of special registration, it’s been recommended here – suggested here that the by-product was immigration control. But a number of people went in – the real purpose of the special registration was to try to get information from these immigrants from terror-sponsoring countries in order to pursue counter-terrorist objectives.
In California, Los Angeles, a number of them were Iranians who had actually fled the Khomeini regime were arrested and detained because they were in this limbo of 245(i). And a backlash – the left and civil rights organizations organized against this. The implication in the press was that this was going to deter immigrants from coming forward, or coming in for registration, and therefore it would limit the access of the INS and other law enforcement authorities to information about terrorism.
So that’s just an example, but is there a tradeoff here between the rule of law and counter-terrorism?
MR. CUTLER: Well, you know, everything is a trade-off. Nothing is 100 percent. As I said, only the laws of nature are immutable. And certainly when you start to require people to come in, some of your bad guys are going to take off and hide, and that’s why we have special agents, so that’s why we’re supposed to have special agents. But you will also get people that will come in and think they can still stay under the radar by coming in and registering and being a good boy, so to speak, and this way you don’t know.
I’ve given talks at my kids’ schools – and they always like to have me come down and talk to the children. I always like to ask them, what does a bad guy look like? What does a terrorist look like? The problem is that terrorists aren’t only people that hijack airplanes. I have worked on an investigation a number of years ago, 20 years ago, and what we were finding were that people from Arabic countries were coming to New York, buying bodegas, cashing in coupons, whether it was for soap or dog food or whatever, doing it fraudulently, and mailing the money back the Middle East to terror organizations. And when they got tired of doing that, they would torch their stores and take the insurance money and mail it out of the country. And in some cases people perished in these midnight fires. I was working with the New York police department, with people from ATF and with people from the fire marshal’s office.
So I would expand what we mean by a terrorist. Anybody who aids, abets, raises money – you know, nothing happens in this world without money. You and I may have the best idea in the world to build a new car, and it might be a great idea, but without seed money that car isn’t going to get built, and that goes for a lot of things. It goes for terrorism also. What we need to understand is that the people who support terrorism within our borders are far more numerous than the 19 people who attacked us on 9/11. So on the one hand, requiring them to come in may force some of them to go underground. On the other hand, you’re going to get people coming in thinking, I’ll just pretend I’m just one of the guys and maybe they won’t pay special attention to me.
And I’m going to make one other point that sort of answers your question and goes into one other area. Everyone is talking about drivers licenses. Drivers licenses de facto are America’s national ID card. You can’t get on the train, a plane, you can’t make a significant purchase with your own credit card or pay by check. It is our national ID card. And what blows my mind is how many times as an agent I’ve arrested people with multiple drivers licenses in their pockets.
The smart thing that we need to do – and I called for this in ‘97 when I did my first congressional hearing. I horrified INS because I always said that in government the truth will set you free. But we need to link biometrics to those drivers licenses. And then what we also need to do is to have a national clearinghouse for all 50 states. Drivers licenses are a states rights issue because if you go back to how cars first were used, you know, you would drive 20 miles and it was a big adventure. But there’s an FAA that regulates pilots, and that’s nationwide. Well, cars are used nationwide in the same way today. So at the very least there ought to be a national clearinghouse where you link drivers licenses with Social Security numbers, with fingerprints, or retina scans, so you don’t get a license in New York and another one in Oregon and another one in New Jersey.
And again, we come back to making the environment less hospitable for the people that try to evade registration efforts, which, by the way, used to be required. We used to say, you know, February is alien registration month. So all we’re doing is going back to what we used to require and we’re making people accountable. And if by being made accountable people want to jump up and down, that’s fine, but this is a commonsense approach, and it would help us to identify terrorists, it would help us to identify people that are supporting terrorism within our borders. So, you know, there’s a tradeoff but I don’t see any real alternative. I hope I’ve answered your question.
MR. KIRKORIAN: I actually had a few thoughts on this as well. First of all, we looked at the al Qaeda terrorists, not just the hijackers, but from 1993, 48 people through the 9/11 attacks, and we know that close to half of them had violated the immigration law at some point, and probably the majority had violated it because the paperwork is not very good, at least that we could find. So immigration law enforcement, if nothing else, interrupts, or has the potential to disrupt, large conspiracies. I mean, the idea that of the 19 hijackers we didn’t grab at least two of them beforehand and give them the third degree and find out what was going on and try to unravel the conspiracy is astonishing.
But the tradeoff idea assumes that leaving large communities of illegal aliens relatively unregulated is worth the information that we’re going to get from them is a plausible suggestion, I suppose, but the information that we’ve gotten from immigrant communities about known terrorists has been relatively minimal, at least from the outside. Two of the 9/11 hijackers lived in San Diego, were given jobs by the local immigrant community, the local immigrant community found them apartments, and they were all completely surprised. You know, wow, they seemed like nice boys, they were loners, they kept to themselves, that sort of thing. The Lackawanna Six, it’s proven, they’ve all pled guilty to be involved in terrorist organizations, and all we hear from the local community that supposedly is going to be feeding Homeland Security or the FBI information is that oh, this isn’t possible, this can’t be, they were all nice boys.
So the idea that immigrant communities are bursting with people waiting to give us information about bad guys just doesn’t strike me as very plausible, quite frankly, so although there is this tradeoff idea, I don’t think it’s that much of a tradeoff.
MR. NELSEN: Could I just make a little statement?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah.
MR. NELSON: In the case of Lackawanna, the information that the FBI got came from the community, came from Lackawanna. So that certainly worked.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Anyone else?
MS. VAUGHAN: I just would like to add that even the very minimal attempts that we’ve made to enforce the laws that we have still have helped because there were prospective terrorists who didn’t get in because they had to submit to an interview in a consulate. The fellow who applied in Germany actually got refused legitimately. And we also know that many Saudi Arabians were chosen specifically because everyone knew that it was very easy to get a visa in Riyadh. We know what we have to do, and we know that it does work some and that we just need to do more of it.
So I don’t see much of a downside to national security efforts from actually enforcing immigration laws in the United States. I think that’s one of the main reasons you do it.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir, in the back.
Q: I’m Vin O’Neill with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. First of all, I want to assure you that our members are working on some gee-whiz technology that will enable law enforcement officers to tell the good guys from the bad guys. But seriously, it really does seem that the problem is a societal lack of will. I mean, if 85 or 88 percent of the people surveyed want fewer immigrants coming in, or want more enforcement of the laws, it seems like really the buck settles on Congress. Congress passes a law but then doesn’t provide the resources that are needed to enforce it. In a sense they get off the hook by saying, look, we’ve done this, we’ve done that, but then they blame the bureaucracy for not being able to enforce it. Neither the will nor the resources seem to be there, from my point of view.
MR. CUTLER: I’ll make a fast comment. We’re dealing with the administration, with the executive branch also, and I can tell you, having spent 30 years working for the INS, that there was no will to do the job at INS either. We often said that anything we accomplished we accomplished in spite of our bosses, not with the encouragement of our bosses. Sound familiar? And you know, I think if I had gone to the movies, I wouldn’t have gotten into any problems. My problems came from doing the job. You made waves – they wanted people to make omelets without breaking the eggs. It doesn’t work that way.
We had an attrition rate that was in the stratosphere, and in a 10-year period in New York, somewhere between 100 and 150 special agents went out the door, left, gone, good-bye. It costs over $100,000 to recruit and train each new special agent. It takes a minimum of five years from the day you hire somebody to be an agent to the day that that person is really proficient at his job. So you have these people coming and going, and nobody at headquarters seemed to care about it. They had to know they were losing people. They had to know they were running people through the academy. They had to know that they weren’t paying salaries to the people who disappeared. And nobody cared.
Now, if they were really serious about getting the job done, these are the warning signs. You go to a doctor, you say, doc, I don’t feel good. Well, the first thing he says to you is, do you have a fever? In an organization, you don’t have a fever, you have an attrition rate – the same thing as a high fever. It was clear that nobody wanted the job done. That’s why I’m talking about the lack of a meaningful interior enforcement program. There was none. There still is none. There’s no coherence.
You’re running a 90 percent fraud rate. If an alien gets married to a citizen, he stands an excellent chance of getting residency and citizenship because there’s no one there to knock on the door. I was doing it. I did 30 interviews, and it was rampant. We were locking up lawyers, for gosh sakes.
So if you want to just blame Congress – I blame everybody and then I blame the taxpayers. The reason that I have been heard – I was just a field agent; I was a senior special agent, and I went to my congressman and I screamed, and I went to different people and I screamed. And I made myself heard. I have four young kids. I worry about their future, I worry about our country’s future. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Everyone says, “Boy, this is terrible,” and then I say, “Well, who’s your congressman?” “I don’t know.”
They need to hear from everybody. Sitting around saying, boy, this is awful, doesn’t solve the problem. And the bottom line is if a Republican looks at the flow of aliens across the border, he sees cheap labor. If a Democrat sees that flow, he sees new voters. (Laughter.) So what they need to see are the constituents threatening mutiny. Let them not feel secure that they can vote that way and still have their jobs because for them job one is getting re-elected.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Mike makes a basic point. Congress is the problem, administrations are the problem, but they behave the way they do because they can get away with it. Even though poll data show that, as Craig referred to, there is a huge gap between the elite and public opinion on immigration. The problem is that it’s not very salient for most people. Public has an opinion but doesn’t usually vote on it because other things are higher priority. I mean, that’s just sort of politically or sociologically the explanation of why we have this, and frankly, the reason immigration control isn’t a higher priority for most people, even though they want it, is because even on the part of the public there’s a certain amount of ambivalence about the issue.
We want to be able to have our cake and eat it to. We want to be able to talk about our tradition as a nation of immigrants and the Statue of Liberty and the immigrant kid who’s the valedictorian, and yadda, yadda, yadda. It makes us feel good. But at the same time we want borders enforced and these are essentially sort of contradictory ideas held simultaneously by frankly most of our fellow countrymen. That’s why we’re in the pickle we’re in today.
Q: (Off mike.) As for the problem of getting the cooperation of undocumented, illegal immigrants who may have useful information for law enforcement or anti-terrorism, aren’t there S visas that would actually, if you have useful information for law enforcement, be available to people who have that kind of information –
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, they’re very limited, though. Yeah, only a handful of those have been used. The point is the information you give has to be something worthwhile, but yes, there is a vehicle for that for people who are illegal aliens but really do have something valuable, as far as information goes, to offer. And very few of those have been used in the couple of years they’ve been in existence.
MR. NELSEN: I don’t think it’s 100 a year.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Not even that.
Q: Adele Stan, the Government Standard. Mr. Cutler mentioned the terrible shape of the interior enforcement problem, and also talked about the tripod. So I’m wondering where in all of that – I mean, there’s plans afoot now to privatize the jobs – contract out the jobs of 1,100 immigration information officers. Where do they fit into that whole nexus, and would any of you have comment as to whether or not you think that would have an impact on the current dilemma?
MR. CUTLER: I get goosebumps thinking about privatizing. And the reason I get goosebumps over it – you know, we had a program called Citizenship USA under the prior administration. We naturalized tens of thousands of criminal aliens. We had one guy I was investigating in conjunction with an FBI drug investigation. He had committed naturalization fraud. And what he did was, they asked him all these great questions – have you sold drugs, no; have you committed crimes, no, no, no – and of course he had not only been found guilty of it, but he pleaded guilty, which meant he conceded it. And we couldn’t even get the U.S. attorney to prosecute.
You need dedicated employees who, A, are less likely to become corrupted. I mean, you’ve got to deal with the real world and there is a corruption problem at times. And I think that people who work at McDonalds flipping burgers this week and next week they’re going to hire them to do some work at INS, they think, well, I’ll do this for a couple of weeks and then I’ll find a new gig and someone offers them money. It’s like the problem I’m sure you encounter with the local employees working at embassies and consular officers.
You don’t want somebody who has access to secure situations who only sees this as something I’m going to do for the next six months or a year. And the people that are the information officers, from what I’ve been told, help to screen people where it looks like there’s a questionable situation. They’re your early warning system. And it also disturbs me that we’re thinking in terms of, well, let’s do this and maybe down the road we could privatize other jobs. I actually heard a rumor that they were looking to privatize exams.
Now, what are we doing? There was a time when in order to be a naturalization examiner you had to be a lawyer and you had to bring two witnesses, and it was a very strictly controlled situation. Now we’re basically giving away citizenship as quickly as we can, it seems. What was it, Groucho Marx, I think, who said he wouldn’t want to belong to an organization that would have him as a member. And this is the way we’re approaching it: let’s give it all away as quick as we can. That’s part of what happened to the enforcement program. We were seen as the bad guys. We’ve stood between this giveaway program and what the administration wanted, which was to do all this.
So if you privatize it I think you’re going to have integrity issues, I think you’re going to have a lack of professionalism. Again, it’s a matter of bringing in a stable workforce that feels dedicated to the mission, and I think privatization runs diametrically opposed to that.
MS. VAUGHN: I think there are some circumstances in which privatization is appropriate tack, but in this case, when you have people who are charged with making decisions that affect other people’s lives, I think it is important, that employer-employee bond is important. It is already having an impact on morale. Two days ago a couple hundred DHS employees were protesting up in Vermont because they’re afraid that they’re going to lose their jobs, or if they get them back, they are not going to be paid as well or working under the same conditions, or have the same kind of relationship with their employer. Of course the contractor is always trying to cut costs in whatever way it can, and that’s what its mission is.
And so, you have to question what happens to the integrity of the process if all the employees in this kind of job are working in that kind of environment. Frankly, INS doesn’t have a really good track record in terms of overseeing what its contractors are doing. I can think of many, many instances in which that’s gone wrong.
MR. CUTLER: Or the letters that were mailed to the dead terrorists.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, I would reinforce what Jessica and Mike said. I mean, it was contractors who were shredding immigrants’ applications. There were green card and other applications that were beginning to build up, and so the contractor had given performance requirements to the employees, and the employees met those workflow requirements by shredding the applications and so they no longer had a backlog. Contracts at detention facilities that the Immigration service contracted for have had a number of instances.
And this kind of thing is going to happen. My point only is that, first of all, there are support functions – food service, driving the bus to take detainees to the detention center -- that are perfectly appropriate. There are others that aren’t. And my really basic concern is that this emphasis – in other words, one of the first things that the administration is doing to address the problems is essentially to blame the employees, that the employees are the problem. This is a continuation of the idea that Congress isn’t the problem, the White House isn’t the problem, it’s the employees, the sort of dysfunctional bureaucrats who are the problem so let’s kick the bureaucrats and that will be the solution. And it’s deflecting attention from the real issue, which is top management in the executive branch and Congress.
Anyone else? Yes.
Q: (Off mike.) I was wondering if the panel would comment on the Patriot Act and its measures regarding immigration, and how not only its passage has affected your efforts but also the efforts to amend it.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, just to take one little piece of it that came up in the news recently, the Patriot Act was intended to make banks more – be more attentive and stringent in identifying people who open bank accounts. In drafting the regulations, the Treasury Department said, well, this is what the law says, but the way we interpret it is that accepting Mexico’s illegal alien ID card is not a violation of the law. In other words, the Treasury Department gave an explicit green light to banks, and reinforced that green light just the end of last week, that opening bank accounts to illegal aliens is legitimate.
So again, this is another example of what Jessica referred to, laws that look tough and then end up not only perhaps being not implemented but often maybe even having the reverse effect of what Congress intended.
As far as the rest of the Patriot Act, much of it, the surveillance issues and all that, really aren’t immigration matters. I don’t know if anybody else wanted to comment on that.
MR. NELSEN: Yes. Essentially we haven’t seen any real change in enforcement efforts under the Patriot Act. The number of interior enforcement agents is still the same today as they were before 9/11, for example. These are the people who are responsible for tracking down terrorists and so on in the country.
One of the things that -- Mark mentions was the matricula consular card and Treasury Department’s recent reinforcement of the rights of banks to open bank accounts for illegal aliens. I mean, this is clearly another case of money trumping national security and the will of the American people and the enforcement of immigration laws. Banks weighed in, in addition to the Mexican government, on this issue, and the Treasury Department, which is charged with regulating banks, knuckled under to the people they’re supposed to be regulating, clearly for no other reason than flat-out profit. It’s as clear-cut as it could possibly be.
This also goes – we see this over and over again in this issue. Someone brought up earlier, what’s going on with – why is Congress or why is the administration not enforcing this law? An example of what’s really going on was mentioned a while ago in the state of Nebraska, something called Operation Vanguard, where INS agents went out and started to go into meat packing plants, which are overwhelmingly staffed by illegal aliens, everybody knows it, started looking through their records and arresting people and deporting them. In other words, just enforcing the law. This is precisely what the law is on the books. Well, by the end of the day, not only the governor of Nebraska but both senators were on the phone to INS saying, don’t you ever do that again; we need this cheap labor. And guess what? It didn’t happen again. Those plants are still full of illegal aliens, the law’s being ignored, and some people are making lots of money from them.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And the person who thought that program up is now enjoying early retirement.
Q: Charles Showalter, vice president of the Immigration and Naturalization Service Council, the union that represents INS employees. First of all, I want to thank everybody for their support of INS employees, sort of the legacy INS employees as we transition into Homeland Security.
I’d like to open this up to anybody on the panel. What are your feelings about the continuation of and merging of jobs with special agents and the sky marshals, or the immigration inspectors, the customs inspectors and the agriculture inspectors? What are your feelings about the merger and dilution of trade skills that result from this?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Do you want to –
MR. CUTLER: Yeah, I’ll do that.
I was an inspector for four years and the problems that we had is you get about a minute to decide on somebody’s admissibility, and it was a tough enough job. There’s no crystal ball; you get a minute to check the passport, see that everything is okay with that, check the database to make the determination if the guy is wanted or otherwise excludable from the United States, and then you might have your boss standing off on the side whining to you to move the passengers. I always compared that job to Lucy at the bon-bon factory. (Laughter.)
And then the boss would say, well, why don’t you just resolve it in your booth; limit them to two weeks? And I’d say, well, that’s great; they want two minutes on the other side of the doors with their sneakers on. And then I think about imagine someone coming to your house and they knock on your door and you look through the peephole and say, gee, this guy doesn’t look too good. I know what I’ll do. Hey, sir, if I let you in, will you promise you’ll leave after 20 minutes?
Would you do that? We do. That’s with a pure immigration workforce. If you start to dilute it and you have confusion as to what your priority really is, and after all, everyone looks at their evaluation as the be-all and end-all, what my worry is is that we’re going to water down the immigration side of it, or even water down the customs side because this is all going to be compromised. I tell people that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, and that’s what worries me. I think we were better off when people had a clear mission.
You know, the only thing that customs and immigration has in common is that they’re both border agencies, but their area of responsibility and their area of expertise are very different. Immigration worries about people coming in to the country, or attempting to come in to the country; customs worries about things being brought into the country and collecting duties and tariffs and that sort of thing. So the idea of merging these two groups together – I’ll put it this way real quick. I think if they’re going to make this marriage work, it’s going to be a shotgun wedding and they’re going to need a lot of marriage counseling.
And then I worry about the training that's going on as well. I worry because I understand that the immigration people always had Spanish language training, for obvious reasons. I understand that’s now been eliminated. If anything, we ought to be getting more languages that are responsible. I can’t tell you how many times as an agent I have knocked on a door and the guy opens the door, whether he means it or not, will say to you, “No habla Ingles, Senor,” and he figures he’s off the hook. And they get very disheartened when you say, “no hay problemo, senor; yo hablo Espanol.” And the guy looks at you and he goes, oh, my.
Well, imagine if we could have agents who speak Farsi and Arabic, Russian and Chinese. So instead of going in that direction we’re going in the wrong direction, saying, well, let’s eliminate the language requirement because customs people never needed it.
So do I have concerns? You bet. I hope I answered that.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, I have to second what he said. If something’s going to give, it’s going to be immigration, and the reason is that keeping out people smuggling in illegal cash into the United States is not something that’s going to get you a call from a congressman’s office saying, stop it, whereas keeping out somebody’s grandma who’s already been stealing, essentially, from Medicare and wants to come back and keep doing that, that will get you a call from a congressman’s office. So which are you going to choose? It’s sort of obvious.
The idea of cross training and the rest of it I think is healthy, but if people and goods are essentially combined and both have to be screened by the same people and the same standards, the screening of people is going to suffer, unfortunately.
MR. CUTLER: Only one other quick point I want to make. We were talking about these other jobs they want to throw on them. What’s next? Having them change the oil on the car? I mean, we have almost nobody to do the job now and these are distractions.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Agricultural screening, too.
MR. CUTLER: Yes, and sky marshal duty and Secret Service. When you’re working a long-term investigation and the informant says, hey, I can meet with the target tomorrow – oh, no, you can’t do that, I’m going to be on the airplane tomorrow. What happens to that case? If I was a bad guy – and we used to have to get permission to do undercover operations that will take weeks, especially at INS, where the cops or even the FBI could do it in a matter of a day, with us it was the paper and the whole nonsense. If I was a bad guy and I was trying to make a deal with somebody and the guys goes, yeah, give me a week, I’ll think about it, immediately you know you’re dealing with an INS agent – (laughter) – because if you’re a bad guy, you want the money. You want to buy the dope? Sure, I’ll get the money for you. I mean, up at DEA we can put the money together in hours. The guy calls up and says, I’ve got the dope; the guy says, great. Within four hours they’ve got half a million dollars to show. Try that at INS. You couldn’t get a car in a half a day. (Laughter.) And so understand what the problem is.
That’s why a lot of people left, they were fed up, and now we’re going to have them wear more hats. I don’t know, I think we’re going to wind up with a haberdashery shop. How many more hats can we put on today? I think it’s a prescription for a disaster. That’s my personal feeling.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s take one last question and then you can accost the speakers privately.
Q: Comments on the CLEAR Act.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Do you want to take that?
MR. NELSEN: Yeah. Lots of support for that. They just announced they’ve got 100 sponsors now in 11 weeks.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Just explain briefly what it is.
MR. NELSEN: The CLEAR Act is a great bill that would facilitate greatly the work and cooperation between local law enforcement and federal authorities. Eighty-eight percent of the American people, by the way, like I said earlier, support this. It’s got carrots and sticks on both sides that would allow things like asset forfeiture from those who profit from illegal immigration. So there’s lots of support for it not only in the law enforcement community but also among the American public and Congress. It’s gaining support fast and the media has already picked up on it. So we have good hopes for it.
MR. KRIKORIAN: And just to fill in, Congressman Charlie Norwood from Georgia is the lead sponsor in the House, and I believe in the Senate there’s a bill that’s kind of cooking that hasn’t been dropped yet, and I think Senator Sessions is behind that.
Let’s wrap it up here now; it’s 11:00. And if the panelists don’t want to be accosted, because actually Mike needs to go to the 9/11 Commission, but the rest of us you can accost. So thanks for coming, and hope to see you next time.