Pushing the Border Out on Alien Smuggling

New Tools and Intelligence Initiatives

By Michael W. Cutler on May 18, 2004

Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims

May 18, 2004

Michael W. Cutler
Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies

Chairman Hostettler, Ranking member Ms Jackson Lee, members of the Congress, distinguished members of the panel, ladies and gentlemen:

I welcome this opportunity to provide testimony for this hearing into issues concerning enforcement efforts to eliminate alien smuggling. As you know, I spent 30 years as an INS employee, 26 of those years as a special agent. Additionally, I was part of the original anti-smuggling unit in the New York office of the INS in the late 1970s. I am here as a former agent who is advocating that the dedicated men and women who are charged with the responsibility of enforcing the immigration laws of the United States are given the tools and resources they need to do a more effective job of protecting our nation's borders.

The effective enforcement of these laws is critical to the security, indeed, the survival of the United States, especially as we prosecute the on-going war on terror. We cannot defend our nation if we cannot defend our nation's borders. Alien smugglers are, as a group of individuals, pernicious criminals. They compromise the security of our borders by facilitating the illegal movement of aliens across our borders without being inspected as required by law. In so circumventing these laws, the aliens who gain entry to the United States are not lawfully admitted, meaning that these aliens who could not have gained lawful entry into our country nevertheless wind up on the streets of our cities and towns. They are not screened as they enter the United States and thus we have no record of their entry into our country nor do we have a record of their presence here. Consequently from the moment they enter into our country they do so in violation of law. While the majority of the aliens who gain access to our country in this fashion do so with the intention of simply gaining illegal employment, criminal aliens including, potentially, terrorists may also evade the Border Patrol and the inspections process with the assistance of smugglers. The smugglers are unscrupulous criminals who are often violent and endanger the lives of the aliens they smuggle into the United States. Time after time we have heard the stories and seen the images of the many people who have died as they attempted entry into the United States, concealed in overcrowded trucks, in the bowels of tanker trucks or in some other hellish situation. The abject disregard for the lives of the aliens they smuggle is an issue that we never can forget. The smugglers endanger the lives of the aliens and the lives of our citizens by providing aliens with a means of entering the United States without adhering to the inspection process mandated by law.

Often the smugglers establish so-called Safe houses where aliens who have been smuggled into the United States are virtually warehoused until they can be moved into the interior of the United States. The squalid conditions in these safe houses endangers the safety of the aliens who remain in these houses and also creates health and safety issues for the people who live in surrounding houses.

Because of the seriousness of this problem I am in favor of Rep. Jackson Lee's bill which would provide incentives for informants who assist in the elimination or disruption of significant alien smuggling organizations. I have had many opportunities to cultivate and work with informants throughout my career. Some of the informants with whom I worked were primarily working with other law enforcement agencies such as the DEA, ATF, FBI or local police, while my colleagues and I recruited others at the former INS. Informants cooperate for many reasons. Some cooperate in an attempt to gain a reduction in sentence for having committed a crime, others wish to remain in the United States or gain permission to accept employment in the United States. Some informants seek monetary rewards while still others cooperate out of a desire to get even with the people against whom they furnish information to agents and prosecutors. Generally the informants who were the easiest to work with provided their assistance out of a desire to do the right thing. The reality is that often investigations are greatly facilitated by informants who act as the eyes and ears of agents. In some instances, they furnish evidence that provides the probable cause which leads to the securing of search warrants, which, in turn, leads to the seizing of evidence thereby furthering the investigative process.

Recruiting informants can be relatively easy or extremely difficult depending on the informant's background and his or her concerns about personal safety and safety considerations for their immediate families. In this regard, the availability of a limited number of S visas to be issued to informants and their immediate families can help to allay some of these fears. All of these issues, motivation, fears, trustworthiness, reliability and integrity are among the concerns that agents and prosecutors have in cultivating and working with informants, but, I can assure you that the use of informants is a widespread practice throughout the wide spectrum of law enforcement on all levels and one which enhances the efforts of the government to accomplish it goals of identifying targets of investigations, gathering evidence, and ultimately apprehending and successfully prosecuting criminals. When we successfully prosecute criminals we send a message to others who are similarly engaged in criminal activities, that we have the resolve and the wherewithal to pursue criminals.

The use of informants certainly sends such a message, as does the provision of law that would call for penalty enhancements for those who are convicted of alien smuggling. Consequently I believe that the Outreach program proposed by Rep. Jackson Lee is a good idea. The public needs to know about the efforts being made to apprehend the criminals who violate these laws. This is significant because it may encourage potential informants to come forward and it may help to deter some individuals from getting involved with alien smuggling.

I would also suggest that the efforts to facilitate cultivating informants in alien smuggling cases also be used in conjunction with informants who similarly assist in providing information that leads to the elimination or disruption of large-scale fraud rings. Traditionally these rings either furnish many fraudulent identity documents to circumvent components of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or devise schemes which, on a large scale, provides aliens with a means of obtaining immigration benefits to which they are not entitled through such schemes as marriage fraud and labor certification fraud. I make this recommendation in view of the fact that according to recent GAO reports, fraud is highly prevalent in the immigration benefits programs.

Finally, I want to reiterate the point that I welcome efforts that enhance the enforcement of the immigration statutes that would help in securing our nation's border and consequently, our nation's security. I believe that the additional discretionary authority should be given to both components of the enforcement program, ICE and CBP to facilitate the vital missions of these two agencies.

I look forward to your questions.