Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Jessica Vaughan, former foreign service officer and former assistant director of the Center for Immigration Studies
Bill King, retired Border Patrol Agent
Mark Reed, former INS agent
Peter Nunez, former U.S. Attorney from San Diego
Ed Grant, Board of Immigration Appeals
MR. KRIKORIAN: My name is Mark Krikorian. I'm executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. We're a think tank here in Washington on the web at cis.org and we examine and critique the impact of immigration on the United States. Before September 11th, examining the economic impact of immigration, the fiscal impact, social and political impacts. Since September 11th, the whole debate has shifted to focusing on the security aspects of immigration control. These issuing overseas, the inspection of foreign citizens at our airports, preventing unauthorized border crossings, tracking foreign students, what have you.
And there's been a lot of legislative activity on this, at least a lot of sound and fury. And there's been a lot of discussion of this sort of the kind of panel discussions that we're going to have today.
The problem is that all the discussion up to now has been by politicians, by pundits, policy analysts and I can say this as a policy analyst myself and a want to be pundit at some point, that there's nothing wrong with people like that. But the people who actually do the work that is being discussed have not really been consulted or haven't really had an opportunity to air their opinions, their experiences, and their insight up to now. Certainly not publicly, and so we thought it would be a profitable, useful exercise to do just that. And so we brought the panel here before you to give some of their suggestions, some of their insights, based on their experience. Some anecdotes about how the actual -- how immigration control actually works and I'm going to give each of them about 15 minutes to talk and we'll have a -- I hope enough time for Q&A afterwards. And if they're willing, obviously those of you who are reporters or others, they'll be able to talk to you afterwards or later.
Let me just briefly introduce everybody in the order they're going to talk and then we'll get started. On my left is Jessica Vaughan. She's a former foreign service officer, a consular officer who actually participated in the visa process, was lied to repeatedly for months on end by people trying to get into the United States. Also as the former assistant director of Center for Immigration Studies has written extensively about other aspects of the immigration issue as well.
Bill King is a retired Border Patrol Agent. A long-time veteran of the Border Patrol. Among his numerous responsibilities there, he was head of the Border Patrol Academy at one point and also administered the 1986 amnesty for illegal aliens for the western region of the United States which is where much of the action was as you can expect.
Mark Reed is a former INS agent. At one point an inspector at border crossings in Washington state. Also involved in anti-smuggling activities and was most recently regional director of the central region, the central part of the country.
Next is Peter Nunez who is former U.S. Attorney from San Diego and under the first Bush administration was what I like to call border czar although he didn't actually have that on his door. He was liaison for the various agencies. He was based in the Treasury Department involved in enforcement on the Mexican border.
And last but not least is Ed Grant who is now a member of the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is a kind of Appeals Court for these -- essentially a judge in Appeals Court for the immigration judges. Before that, was a counsel at the House Immigration Subcommittee and actually helped write much of the 1996 immigration bill. And before that was an attorney at the Immigration Service.
So without too much further ado, I'll start with Jessica.
MS. VAUGHAN: Thank you and good morning.
When we talk about immigration policy in the context of national security or in the context of homeland defense, most of the attention of policy makers and opinion leaders has been focused on the Border Patrol, the INS, and a lot of people seem to forget that there is another gate through which people who wish to enter this country need to pass and for most of them that's the U.S. Consulate overseas. We have about 900 foreign service officers and working in about 220 visa issuing posts overseas.
Part of the problem I think is that the State Department has actually forgotten about its role in border security and its role in national defense. And the evidence of this is not only what happened on September which was clearly at least in part a failure in immigration policy, because we know that about -- at least 13 of the hijackers were given permission to enter this country by somebody, more than one person. They were given permission to enter by a consular officer and they applied for admission and were allowed in by an immigration officer. At least most of them to the extent that we know for sure.
The other evidence is -- can be found in what we know about the illegal immigrant population in our country. We don't have firm numbers obviously, but the INS thinks that about 40 percent or three million people who are out of status, illegal in the country today, are they call visa overstayers. People who are issued a and given permission to come here and decided to stay longer. So that's about three million mistakes who are here. And part of the problem is is that we're not really learning from them -- from those mistakes. It's not really a good track record. That's probably maybe as much as a 10 percent failure rate in our visa issuance policy.
And there have been, to be fair, so there has been some attention focused on what to do about the overstays. How to keep that from happening. But most of that has been focused on the people themselves, the overstayers themselves and not on how they happen to have been issued a visa in the first place.
And there are a lot of reasons that happens and as we know now, these mistakes have serious consequences. I think the major failure on the part of the State Department has been the way it views its mission. Rather than considering the issuance of visas to be a matter of national security or homeland defense, it approaches the issuance of visas as a management issue. A question of work flow that needs to be dealt with. A vast number of applicants that have to be dealt with quickly with limited resources and limited staff. And the distinct trend over at least the last eight years is to approach it that way. How can we do this more efficiently, more pleasantly? Not how can we make better decisions.
In my view, the mission of the State Department with respect to visa issuances ought to be we need to get the people in here who are qualified as efficiently as possible and refuse admission to ideally everyone who is not qualified. Of course, there's some backup that can happen on the interior as well but that's -- the basic problem is one of attitude toward the issuance of visas.
And this has been evident in the kinds of statutory changes the State Department has pushed for over years. In 1994, it pushed for a change that shifted a significant chunk of its workload over to the INS for no real good reason from the standpoint of quality of decision making. That's 245(i). And also their reliance on technology to expedite the process and some other things.
I think we need to look really carefully at the way the visas are issued. There have been some improvements based on technology. Notably the machine readable visa. Of course there -- and that has been great as far as establishing the integrity of the document
itself so that they can't be forged easily. And the lookout system has been computerized. A lot of attention has been focused on the holes there as well and there are some important ones.
The State Department has not been given access course to the FBI information that might help it in rooting out people who are known by the FBI to be not worthy of issuing a visa to.
A lot can be done to -- probably the best way to approach this is by improving the IBIS system, the Integrated Border Information System, by adding important FBI data. The State Department has been considered not a law enforcement agency so they've been denied access to this for non-immigrant visas and a lot of attention has been focused on that.
It does have access to the FBI database for the purposes of issuing immigrant visas. But the way it got that is to actually pay an FBI employee who sits up in the visa issuance center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, running name checks for the State Department. And I think probably anybody in this room can think of a better way to accomplish that with respect to non-immigrant visas. And we have the technology to do that.
Another weak link in the system that could be strengthened is clearly some sort of biometric identification system can be -- would enhance the visa itself as a document. Especially if it were actually used by other agencies when the applicant arrives here so that we create a single file on a visitor that would stay with them and that could be accessed by INS. This can be done by fingerprint technology or facial recognition technology. The machine-readable visa already has a photo on it that is digital. The technology exists to deploy that for the purposes of national security so that the immigration officer sitting at the port of entry can cross check the decision of the consular officer to make sure that the person who was issued that visa is actually the person who's standing in front of him. That's certainly an important tool that we have that we could use. It's not cheap but it can be done.
And as I said, the State Department has been very good at looking for ways to use technology to increase its efficiency and its effectiveness in the case o the MRV's.
But also one problem I think is that there are certain things that technology cannot do for a visa officer. Just as a doctor needs to sit and talk to an see a patient that he or she is trying to diagnose, a consular officer really needs to see a visa applicant to make sure that the person standing in front of them is actually the person that the application and the documents that they're reviewing says they are. A lot of attention has been focused on the fact that oh, the consular officers only have two to three minutes to interview applicants and that’s not enough time to make a determination.
What should be of more concern to people is that only, to the best we can tell, about one-fifth of people who apply for non-immigrant visas are actually interviewed at all. The State Department has been moving toward drop boxes, group applications via travel agencies and other ways to avoid having to actually look at the people who are asking for permission to enter. And I think we need to step back and try and -- particularly in high risk countries where there's a known risk of people who are going to be trying to gain entry who shouldn't be.
And also for people who are asking for permission to stay here for a long period of time, student visas, a lot of the attitude when I was a consular officer was that all of the student visas are probably a pretty good bet. We don't need to look at them too closely. When in fact our experience has told us that that is one of the categories that terrorists and others have chosen as a route. Not just terrorists, people who simply want to -- are looking for a back door and don't have a relative to sponsor them, will use to gain access and to gain admission to the country.
So again, and we need to move back to basics. We need to start looking at the fact that we've made three million mistakes and that they're all here and quite frankly be tougher on who is offered admission to this country. The State Department is not -- now learning from its mistakes. This can be accomplished I think through better training, more time spent, through reinforcement of the national security mentality, if you will, at post, but also there are some tools and some feedback that can be provided to consular officers so that they can in fact learn from their mistakes.
One of these is an entry/exit system and again this is a proposal that has been made. The fact that we need to find some way to figure out how many people are not leaving when they should. The visas are now scannable or machine readable. There's no reason why people cannot be expected to leave a mark when they leave in some way. It wouldn't be that hard to do to -- whether it's through expecting the airlines to scan the visas on people.
People should be required to tell us when they're leaving so that we know who hasn't gone. And there are a lot of reasons to do that. One of the most important is for interior enforcement purposes so that we know who is here who shouldn't be. It would also serve as a deterrent I believe to overstayers, to people who are considering staying longer than they should if they know that they're -- somebody's going to pay attention to that, they're less likely to do it. And also this would give -- would create a body of information that could be used by the department to -- real-time information to change the way they're issuing visas. If you know that a large number of guys in their 20's have recently come -- been admitted by virtue of the fact that they wanted to attend Miami Dade Community College which is one of the schools I saw a lot when I was serving in Trinidad, we know that they, you know, dropped out after the first semester, someone can go back to post and say you need to start taking a closer look at these people, this group of people, because we now have good information on them.
And officers are not held accountable for their mistakes. And I'm not suggesting that, you know, we need to go find who issued Hanni Hanjour that visa and they need to be fired. But there is a way to hold consular officers responsible for their attitude. And currently quality of decision making is not a factor in your performance. And if you go back and look at my performance review from when I was head of the NIV section in Port-au-Spain, you won't see that I was good at detecting fraudulent birth certificates or that I set up a program with the forensics officers in the local police department to help us figure out which documents were bad or that we captured or we caught a bunch of people who were honoring fraudulent documents. What you'll find is that, well, Mrs. Vaughan was a little bit slow but she was very, very nice. And that was considered a good performance review. But geez, I'm going to be promoted on nice? Is this really what I'm supposed to be doing here? And that culture really needs to change. And there is a way to do it. And the entry/exit system would be one important tool to do that.
There's a way to do it in the short term, too. The INS has information on who is adjusting, you know, in this country. Who is -- who's gotten here and said well now I want to be a student or now I want a job here. That information can be shared with the State Department and it is not currently and that would be a start.
There are other -- a lot of other issues that can be addressed. One is the staffing of the consular corps. We shouldn't -- everyone who is a consular officer ought to want to be there. It's now sort of almost like a hazing ground for new junior officers and the approach of the department has been we want generalists, we want people who know -- who have issued visas, who can think on their feet, who have other skills that we're looking for. But we ought to also be trying to recruit people who want to do the work and who are enforcement minded and who are serious about a career in this kind of job.
There ought to be cross-training with the INS. It used to be people, when you were a newly minted consular officer, you'd go spend two days in an INS port of entry and watch people -- watch INS officers at work and I actually applied for that training and was turned down because they wanted me at post issuing visas. But we ought to get back to that. Give some cross-training. Bring some INS officers overseas to start issuing visas.
In the 70's there was a consular specialist corps of people who were just hired just as the State Department hires people to do financial tasks and information technology and personnel work, they can hire consular specialists as well and that would be a way to supplement the consular corps which is a better way in my view than hiring spouses of foreign service officers who have no other sources of employment, which does happen.
The other important thing that I think needs to happen is that the department needs to start resisting the kid of statutory changes that severely undermine their ability to make good decisions and to again focus on that other important half of the equation of refusing people who aren't eligible. And specifically I'm talking about sections of the law like 245(i) where people who have -- illegal immigrants are permitted to adjust status within the United States.
The people who are applying for permanent residency ought to be interviewed and they ought to do it from overseas. They shouldn't be given amnesty. They -- and those who are ineligible, 245(i) as it was enacted in 1994 and as it now Congress is under pressure to reinstate, allows people who are not qualified and get turned down for their green card to stay here in effect because they're here already and we don't go around deporting people who have their green cards turned down.
We shouldn't be issuing visas to people from states who sponsor terrorism at least without much more scrutiny than they're currently receiving. We need to do a better job, of course, of tracking student visas and we need to hold INS officers to the same standards that we're expecting of State Department reviewers and that is again, goes back to this business of depending on paperwork. People who adjust status aren't interviewed. They ought to be, just as they are interviewed overseas.
So my time is up. I could go on for a longer, but I'll give somebody else a chance.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jessica. Bill King.
MR. KING: Thank you. Someone once said protecting a nation means looking at the legitimacy of immigration control as a Border Patrol Agent. I don't believe truer words were ever spoken. And that this nation has failed its citizens in this regard became painfully clear on September 11th. If it wasn't before, it should now be universally recognized that our borders are out of control and just how dangerous that is to this nation.
It's been shown also on the legal front that aliens applying for non-immigrant status to come into this country are not properly screened. There is no tracking system to follow them. There's no ability to tell whether they're maintaining status or if in fact they're still in the country. We have no idea who they are, where they are or what their purpose is in being in this country.
We know that there are almost nine million foreign people here in the United States illegally and as Jessica said, roughly 60 percent of them have crossed our borders illegally. The others, of course, have violated the terms specified in their visas. But truthfully, they can be job seekers, criminals, disease carriers, and I've arrested all of them and now they can be foreign agents and that's a particularly dangerous aspect of this whole border control situation now.
And because of mismanagement, negligence, and political manipulation, the INS has lost control of its functional responsibility to its citizens. They lost it a long time ago. But it's not entirely the fault of the INS either. The Congress lays more I think with -- I mean the fault lays more with the Congress and the various administrations of late.
With very few exceptions, members of Congress have given short shrift to this problem of border security and I'm not sure that you're aware of what's happening, for example, along the Arizona border now but border area residents, our own citizens, are suffering greatly at the hands of illegal alien smugglers and drug smugglers. Their homes are trashed, vandalized, burglarized, their animals are killed, their fences are cut, their property is trashed, and I hear no outcry from members of Congress designed to protect these people. They're pretty much on their own. They live under the constant threat of retaliation by smugglers of both drugs and aliens if they speak out too loudly about what's going on within their neighborhoods, but they're almost all are carrying guns now for self-protection. This is dead wrong and it's time that the Congress, instead of pandering to the cheap labor advocates, the unions, and the ethnic, Hispanic ethnic minority groups, they should start paying attention to what's happening to our own people, because nowhere in this country are people more under represented than our own citizens who are forced to pay for the cost for all of this foolishness.
And if the Border Patrol is to become a productive member of the homeland security and defense system, it's got to recapture the border control of the border and it's not going to do it with the forces it has at hand today. Both borders, as you know, are sieves. Anyone can cross these borders today because we have I think roughly 400 agents on 4,000 miles of border with Canada. The bulk of our forces concentrated on the Mexican border but as -- they're wide open to the terrorists who may be intent upon smuggling weapons of mass destruction across these borders and believe me, they can do it.
I have a personal problem with the current law enforcement strategy on the border because it seems they're concentrating all of their efforts and all of their personnel on the immediate border and in most places, no longer have a backup situation. Al Nelson, the former commissioner of immigration, used to describe this as analogous to placing an entire football team on the line of scrimmage. It really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
I've read in the newspapers where alien smugglers once they reach a highway and load their people into load cars, are no longer pursued, so that means they're home free.
Checkpoints, there's a series of traffic checkpoints across the entire Mexican border for example. Some of them are closed. The sense in keeping the others open really isn't there because with those closed checkpoints, the smugglers have an avenue to the interior that they will use with great ease.
But I guess when it comes to control of the border, along with most retired Border Patrol managers that I know, I strongly believe that the military has got to be placed on -- in an assistance role to the border enforcement agencies. And that without the immediate infusion of additional personnel, that border is, particularly the Mexican border, is going to remain a sieve.
I've heard talk from members of Congress about doubling the force, the personnel force, of the Border Patrol but realistically that would take years. As a former director of the Border Patrol Academy, I can tell you that by the time physicians are authorized through the Congress, the administration, you get into recruiting, hiring, background checks, academy training, field training, and the additional training facilities that would be necessary to double the force of the Border Patrol as they say overnight, would realistically take years to accomplish.
So unless they put the military on the border, it's going to remain the sieve it is right now. There's no way around that because there's no other means of immediately infusing that many additional people.
There are arguments present that the military is not trained for this, that they're not capable of performing these duties, but that's nonsense. We are the best educated, best trained military force in the world, and they are currently serving and protecting the borders, the sovereignty of other nations, while our own remain neglected. And that's got to be cured if we want to regain control.
Every year, for more than a decade, more than a million illegal aliens are arrested crossing the border. And last year I think it was a 1,600,000 that were arrested. Hundreds of thousands each year successfully evade apprehension at the borders to take up residence and find jobs and this will now be true for any terrorists that want to invade the country by the same means.
Tom Ridge, who is the -- and you know is the director of homeland security has said that solving border control problems is one of the more important issues facing him today. And to me, this gives considerable weight to the argument for the immediate deployment of the military on the border.
Another benefit that might be realized from placing the military on the border once they receive enough training to perform on their own would be the release of some Border Patrol agents at least to assist the immigration investigators in the interior where law enforcement -- immigration law enforcement is practically non-existent. Immigration law enforcement in the interior is practically dismantled except for the criminal alien program.
I think the INS should be directed to recruit the assistance of the city and state law enforcement agencies to investigate the arrest or detention of aliens illegally in the United States as provided for in the '96 Immigration Act.
I really have some serious problems about the control of the border. We saw what happened on September 11th. Nobody could have expected that. And now we have these wide-open borders that are just as vulnerable as the World Trade Center was and I sincerely hope and pray that somebody will do something to get Congress and the administration on line with supplying the people necessary to control it all.
In 1996, with that Act, came the ability for civilian police authority to petition the INS to be trained and to participate in the location and arrest and detention of illegal aliens. But to my knowledge, after five years, the INS has not yet published regulations governing the implementation of the program. To me this is unforgivable because the assistance that could be offered by various police authorities throughout the United States, in the interior particularly, would be invaluable.
The lack of cooperation and communication between law enforcement agencies at the various levels of government has got to be overcome if the nation is serious about protecting the public from further terrorist attacks.
As citizens, we have the right to expect the closest level of support between the various enforcement agencies and this is just not happening. And nowhere is it more apparent than what's happening with the City of Los Angeles Police Department special order 40 which expressly prohibits any cooperating with INS investigators or border enforcement authorities, to the point I understand we're now even for a special agent or a Border Patrol agent to enter one of the several police buildings in the city, requires the permission of the station commander. This is absolutely ridiculous. They're not allowed to even share information relating to the illegal alien activity in that city and it's become -- if it isn't the illegal capital of this country, it's very close to it.
But to me, any agency at any level of government that fails to cooperate particularly in these times, should have any federal funding they're receiving revoked.
Then we have reorganization of INS. As most of you know, the Commission on Immigration reform spent five years reviewing the practices of INS and the problems caused between the two different functions that they share. One being enforcement. The other being service operations. After that five year study, the commission recommended that enforcement be separated from the service functions or components and this has not yet happened. But it becomes even more important today. I don't think any agency can operate successfully while trying to control both service functions and enforcement functions. In my experience, after 44 years, I can tell you that it hasn't happened with INS.
There's talk about moving the Border Patrol along with Customs and the Coast Guard into the Homeland Security and Defense Agency and I would have absolutely no problem with that happening.
INS has shown itself to be incapable of handling both aspects or both functions and I certainly hope for the good of the country that they will either put it in Homeland Security or separate the two functions while they remain in the Department of Justice.
Jessica mentioned Senator Feinstein's proposal for the facial identification card for students and I think it's a great idea but it doesn't go far enough. I think if they used the 4994 which is issued to every non-immigrant coming into the country and made it a secured document, it would provide for the tracking of all non-immigrant visitors to this country rather than just the students. I think her idea is a good one. It just doesn't go far enough because we do need to know where these people are.
I'll be short, but finally if we are truly at war, it's both critically important and logical to give high priority to the control of the nation's borders and to implement the needed changes in our very confused immigration policy.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Bill. Mark Reed is next.
MR. REED: Thank you. I'm going to break my presentation down to into three basic pieces. I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself which I love to do and do a little bit of storytelling which I love to do and then I'm going to tell you what I think needs to be done which is we may be here all day then. I am going to keep it short.
What I would like to do though before I get started is to let you know that I'm going to make some very broad sweeping statements. I know that they are. If there's some interest in following up with them, I'd be more than happy to but there's so much to say in minutes, that you just kind of need to throw some of the bullets out.
I would ask you as I start talking though to think about two things that both Jessica and Bill brought up and that is the magnitude of the numbers. If you think about the numbers, you realize how overwhelming this really is and when we try to think about fixing this with old practices, it sometimes just doesn't work that way. How many people would we have to remove from the country every day for the next four or five years, just remove those people, presuming that we didn't have anybody replacing that illegal population. The numbers are really staggering.
Bill holds Congress responsible for a lot of this. They're a part of it. The agencies are part of it. But I also believe that the nation plays a very big role in this as well. So I'm going to try to expand it beyond Congress and specific agencies.
I started my career in Bellingham, Washington, as an immigration inspector out of Washington State University. At that time, I knew nothing about immigration, either the agency or the issues. I was looking for a job and was very fortunate to find my way into INS. I was an idealist then, I still am now, and I probably always will be. I just simply think that things are supposed to work the way things are supposed to work. And when they don't, I don't get it.
My career was built around the enforcement side and I enjoyed it very much and I had the extreme privilege of working with a lot of very, very, very good people. Two -- three of them sitting here with me today. I was able to watch people who really knew the issues and struggled with the problems and really led my way of thinking. And you're going to hear a lot of what I stole from them as we go through this.
As a result of my idealism though, I was oftentimes frustrated in INS. I didn't understand what we were doing. I didn't understand why we were doing it. I -- and quite frankly a lot of it didn't make sense to me. And I wrestled with that really quite a bit throughout my career. But the last four years, it started coming home to me that I really didn't understand the bigger picture.
I believe that INS functioned exactly the way INS was supposed to function. I believe that it was part of an overall scheme and the nation got out of INS exactly what they wanted out of INS. INS wasn't conflicted. I believe the nation was. It wasn't INS that didn't have the coherent immigration enforcement policy. The nation didn't want one. It wasn't INS that was ineffective and driven by less than substantive priorities. INS was expected to be ineffective and it was convenient that implementation schemes did not restrict flow across our borders, legal or otherwise. It wasn't that INS couldn't do the job. The nation didn't want to be encumbered by the consequences.
I think things have changed now. At least people are talking about changing those opinions. Years of neglect, conflicting policy, inadequate funding of the entire border infrastructure and quiet acceptance of failure has created a breach in our national security that has been realized principally due to three emerging forces.
The first obviously is September 11th and terrorism. Our borders are wide open. I agree with Bill, this nation just simply provides too many opportunities for terrorists to enter this country and stay at their will. There is no risk; there is no presence, law enforcement presence active therein; there is no risk attached to coming to this country and operating as you will.
Before that though, I think there was another emerging force that was starting to push the border management issues to the table and that's our economy. I believe this nation was rapidly and is rapidly engaged or has been engaged in development of a global economy. That has been realized as our future and we've been working very hard to do that. A piece of engaging in a national economy is to have borders that work, that function the way that they are supposed to, that can balance the enforcement issues as well as the facilitation issues. I strongly believe that our economy is a national security issue.
I also believe that Mexico and Canada recently have been recognized more than they have in the past as being part of our national security. They are being recognized more as part of where our economy needs to be and I think there has been a real effort to really form better partnerships in terms of developing our security and economies.
The border now has a profound impact on national security and development of regional and global economies. Borders that provide easy access to terrorists, criminals, and other unlawful entries do not work and are a threat to our national security. Borders that are closed and adversely impact the nation's economy are a threat to our national economy as well. And any border that would isolate us from our contiguous neighbors will leave us standing alone. These are opposing forces. Each demands the same thing, a well managed border.
And I will say this to the end, a well managed border is a secure border.
Mark wanted some story telling that might add some credibility to these statements that I just made. I don't know if that's possible, but let me take a shot at it.
In 1976, I worked as a special agent in San Francisco. I was a trainee and I was assigned to a 20-person unit that was responsible for working all of northern California. We were supposed to go out and people who were in the United States unlawfully, apprehend them, and arrange to get them removed from the United States. For almost two years, we would take an old high mileage government vehicle out on the streets of San Francisco in search of illegals. Every day we would fill 23 that sedan, write them up and arrange for their departure. One day we inadvertently caught more than we could get in the sedan. The journeyman officer turned to me and said, "We're going to have to let one go. Pick one out." I refused. It went against my principles. He said, "It's okay. It's a common practice, we've got to leave one for seed." Again, I refused and I was quickly identified as an individual in the unit that just didn't get it. I was taking the job a lot more seriously than people thought I should be. They understood that I didn't understand the numbers. They thought I thought I could be effective.
Then at work site operations, I find myself confronted by an employer accusing me of harassment. After all, everyone knew that everyone else -- that no one else would perform that kind of work and that these were good workers, that these were good people, and everyone was hiring and besides they would be back before the week was out. Yes, I knew that. I was a law enforcement officer doing my job which was important to the security of the nation. And how could any respected businessman and community leader say things like that to me. I just didn't understand the dialogue. I couldn't see the general acceptance by the community of migrant labor. The dynamic of the private sector that depended upon migrant labor, the influence that these businesses had, and I had no concept of the interest and power of Congress at that time. I couldn't see that the people I arrested were becoming part of the fabric of community development.
Still blind in 1980, I took an opportunity to move into a newly formed enforcement group targeting alien smuggling. For four years, I chased alien smugglers around California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska with about 100 other officers specializing in that same venture. But our success was being measured in numbers, not impact. And again, just think about how that doesn't work when we start measuring in terms of numbers.
Efforts to expand the program became futile. Efforts to establish an intelligence capability to at least identify the smuggling threat were blunted. Attempts to integrate an anti-smuggling strategy and other enforcement strategies were ignored. I didn't get it. I didn't realize that the concept of alien smuggling was so repugnant to the country that the nation needed to take a stand against it, but not enough threat to shut it down. The program, not the alien smuggling organizations, was dismantled after a few years.
Then I moved on to district management operations in Honolulu and San Antonio. Both offices had significant airport inspection programs. There I was introduced to the influence of the airlines, hosting community, and the airport authority in terms of their participation in the inspection process. Expansion of airport operations and indirectly the community were deemed to be part of marketing strategies aimed at international visitors. The philosophy was that if people were treated well, they would come back, continue to travel on the same airline and spread community goodwill that would attract other travelers and investors.
Processes that detracted from the community's capability to market itself were unacceptable. The power of the community drove home the concept that good government and agency interests needed to be balanced to be effective.
Let me fast forward to 1995. At that time, I was invited to participate in a grand border strategy as a district director in San Diego. This is the one Bill King loves so much. The strategy was everything I thought INS was supposed to be about. I believed it to be a multi-year program centered on creating a border with Mexico that worked. Unlawful entry between the port of entries would be deterred. Port of entry infrastructure would evolve to deter unlawful entry while facilitating traffic. A parallel alien smuggling strategy focused on dismantling smuggling corridors to and from the borders was to be implemented. Interior enforcement strategies at destination points focused on the magnet employment were to be implemented. And for the first time, I saw an effective dialogue established with Mexico about working on border enforcement issues together based on bi-national interests. I was in heaven. I thought I'd finally gotten to be where I wanted to be and I was very excited about the process.
My piece was to bring law and order back to the largest land border port of entry in the world at San Ysidro, California. Along with other counterparts in Customs, we took the port back, established enforcement presence and effectiveness at all time highs. We rebuilt the port of entry that functioned and allowed the regional economy to prosper. It took a lot of very hard work by the rank and file of both agencies. It also took an infusion of resources, money and most importantly, community support on both sides of the border. When it was completed, it was designated as a model and was supposed to be exported nationwide. It was my first real appreciation of the enforcement. The credible -- it was my first appreciation of the importance that a credible enforcement had on creating an environment conducive to commerce and community needs. I championed the border strategy then many times.
In 1998, I was promoted to a regional director in Dallas. The challenge to continue building the strategy. I had responsibilities for a large portion of the Canadian and Mexican border as well as many states in between. Operation Gatekeeper already had a foothold in Texas and was expected to expand across Texas and New Mexico rapidly. The ports of entries were expected to grow into the San Ysidro model. The alien smuggling corridor strategy was to be initiated. Detention processes demanded revamping and were to be revamped to provide better access, reduce time people were being detained, and most importantly effect timely departures.
I was also challenged to provide a more effective interior enforcement approach targeted towards egregious employers and of course, reduce the adjudication backlogs. This was the opportunity I was looking for throughout my entire career. But I was in for a learning curve of my lifetime. I learned that government institutions as well as the nation preferred change in small doses. Let me explain.
A budget shortfall of $1 million submarined the port of entry initiative. The support for expanding resources essential to the San Ysidro model and identified as critical to effective border management disappeared as did the entire model. Preservation of an arbitrary budget process was more important than an opportunity to effectively manage the ports of entry.
A detention system to address core values of all interests to include advocacy groups, foreign governments, the removable alien and the INS was discarded due to an internal process issue in an unfortunate decision to name it the Hub Site program.
I ended up before Congress declaring that all efforts to continue work on such a program would be abandoned. They were. Deporting people, deporting more people wasn't necessarily in the government's best interests.
Then Operation Gatekeeper was stopped in its tracks as soon we were able to divert the flow of unlawful migrants through the most densely populated border communities despite demonstrated capacity to expand this program border wide.
The nation was not ready to stop the flow of migrant labor into the country. Likewise, the alien smuggling strategy was put on hold and still is and checkpoint operations traditionally regarded as essential elements of border control have come under attack one by one.
The most telling experience, however, is a story of Vanguard which was a major interior enforcement operation designed to lock out unlawful migrants from the workforce in the meat packing industry nationwide. It was initiated in Nebraska and was supposed to move forward quickly. When it was realized that it was working, it was shut down for some very legitimate concerns about effect on local economies, families and good government. But that was about two years ago and it's still being studied. It's much like Gatekeeper.
Sound like sour grapes? I hope not. I learned a lot from each of these experiences. Each of these instances point to the elements that are essential to effective border management but were deemed by various factions of the nation to be in conflict with some other national interests. I think these short stories speak to the conflict this nation has with border security.
Let me talk just very briefly about some of the things I think that need to be done and need to be done right now. Follow through with Gatekeeper and close the gaps, it can be done by deploying technology and agents. Make people enter through the ports of entry. Provide lawful mechanisms for essential workers to enter the country and be monitored. Do not imprison them here. Do not create a system where they come here illegally and cannot get back and forth across the border. It just puts the wrong incentives in place. Stop granting six-month and indefinite stay non-immigrant visas. Stop allowing for extensions of stay, change of status, and adjustment of status absent very compelling circumstances. It's okay to ask people to go home to take care of that business. Monitor compliance. Establish a law enforcement presence in the interior. Stop employment of unauthorized worker national ideas not necessary. Make the port of entries functional. We know how, we already have the system in place, we know -- designed. Use technology but do not allow it to paralyze the work and most importantly, embrace Mexico and Canada as partners in this vested interest.
Running out of time, hopefully we'll be able to talk about this more a little bit later on. It's my profound conviction that the closed borders are not secure borders. Closed borders will imprison the character, soul and economy of the nation. The most secure border is a managed border and I think the nation has some soul searching about what it really wants to do. If we continue to allow the borders to porous and continue to have a rampant infusion of illegal migrant labor into this country that is uncontrolled, these other issues that we try to build around it cannot work. That's -- thank you.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Mark. Peter Nunez is next.
MR. NUNEZ: It's always a question whether it's good to go -- better to go at the beginning of these panels or at the end because you never know whether the people are going to steal all your stuff or are you going to find yourself disagreeing with one or more of your predecessors.
So to some degree I think I'm going to overlap with what a number of the other speakers have said because we have -- many of us shared our work experience for parts of the last 30 years I guess.
Let me start off by saying that in response to one of the key points that Mark keeps making about the nation, the nation's attitude toward immigration. Depending on how he and you use that phrase or that term, I'm not sure if I agree or disagree because my view is the American public, the American people, have been on the record for decades as supporting reduced immigration and no illegal immigration. On the other hand, the special interests in this country have dominated immigration policy for the last 30 years and they are very powerful special interests and they have overcome and overridden the views of the public.
So if when we say the nation isn't ready for our coherent policy, if by the nation we mean the special interests that don't want a coherent policy, Mark's entirely correct and I agree with that 100 percent. If on the other hand we mean that the people don't want a coherent immigration policy, that's not correct because I think the people have been waiting in some desperation for someone to fix these problems. We saw it in the late 70's which led to the Hesburgh Commission. We saw it in the movement that resulted in URICA in 1986. We saw it again in the early 90's with Prop 187 in California. We saw it -- which led Congress in '96 to take some actions and I think we're seeing it again now in a whole different context.
My -- I comment this having served as a federal prosecutor in San Diego for 16 years from the early 70's until -- through 1988. We were the -- we were then and the district still is, the busiest criminal district in the United States. We average somewhere around 7,000 criminal prosecutions a year, about 5,000 of which were immigration related every year. That has changed now under more recent administrations. They have de-emphasized the prosecution of immigration cases and have, not a criticism, they've just had other -- they're just sort of inundated with the drug problem which was always -- has always been a factor.
And one of the things that we know about border control is that if you don't have control of the border, you don't have control over any kind of crime that occurs on the border. So if illegal aliens can get through the border, so can drug dealers, so can terrorists, so can any other person intent on committing a crime.
My view generally is that Congress has delivered, intentionally has delivered, a system that doesn't work. It's built on shadows and mirrors to temporarily mislead the public into thinking that actions are being taken to address border issues when in fact most of the things that have been done have been ineffective. And I'll go through some of those things as we go along.
My first observation is that INS, the Border Patrol, the other border agencies, but specifically INS and the Border Patrol, have never been a popular agency in government. The Justice Department, the Congress, the executive branch, have always viewed INS as a not essential agency. And that has led to funding problems, lack of personnel, lack of equipment, lack of oversight, and it's only when a disaster occurs that everyone starts trying to blame INS for whatever it is that's gone wrong. In my view, while INS certainly has to take some share of the blame, INS is doing what Congress told them to do with the resources that Congress has given which generally have not been adequate. And have in many instances placed obstacles in the path of INS to perform its functions.
So among federal law enforcement agencies, INS was always sort of the bastard stepchild certainly of the Justice Department and probably of most federal law enforcement. And when -- I can just imagine every year when the Attorney General sits down to make up the budget increase or the budget proposal for the Justice Department and the FBI comes in and says, "This is what we need" and the DEA comes in and then the marshal service and the Bureau of Prisons and last but not least, the runt of the litter has always been historically INS.
Now in the last five years, their budget has zoomed up and that's good. But if they had done that, if they had addressed that issue five, 10, 15, 20 years ago, we wouldn't have some of these problems today.
Which leads to the second observation that both INS and the Border Patrol and to a lesser degree Customs, part of the problem is that the executive branch hasn't supported these agencies adequately and the other part of the problem that Congress hasn't so the dynamic between the two is similar. Sometimes it's budget issues pure and simple. It's money, it's dollars, what's available. And sometimes it's I think more sinister. It's the influence again of special interests that have intentionally handstrung some of these agencies to prevent them from being as effective as they can.
Part of the problem is that Congress, at least in my view in the last 15 years, has compounded this problem by the legal changes that they have made that have overwhelmed INS. And I look first to 1986 and the amnesty provision which didn't just create 2.7 million new legal immigrants, but everyone of those people then became eligible to bring in family members under this system of chain migration family reunification that has dominated our immigration policies since 1965.
So we took an agency that could not keep up already, we added 2.7 million new people, they had to be processed and then over time as they were naturalized or even as they were legalized, they become part of the priority system and allowed to bring in more people. So the workload itself just expanded almost exponentially.
The same thing happened in 1990 when Congress raised the caps, reordered the priorities slightly, and that itself has led to the I think unprecedented increase in legal immigration over the last 11 years now where almost a million people, legal and illegal, have been -- about 800,000 legally I think have been -- have immigrated to the US and that doesn't even mention the millions of 20 non-immigrants that are being processed starting as Jessica said first perhaps at an embassy but then at some point INS has some responsibility or we think they should have some responsibility for dealing with these non-immigrants. So the workload is just overwhelming. So big surprise that INS can't do any of its jobs well.
The most shameful example of this -- this all leads to shortcuts and problems within the agency. And the most shameful part of it was in 1996 when we saw this politically driven effort to naturalize as many people as we could before the elections in 1996 which led to people being naturalized without background checks, people being naturalized that had criminal records. I mean it was just a travesty. But that's the kind of pressure or that's the kind of action that takes place when an agency is placed under pressure and political pressure as well.
The government under pressure from the business community primarily and from open border advocates of whatever variety have made law enforcement a lower priority, Mark touched on this a little bit, than facilitating trade and travel. Keep the traffic moving. That's always been the most important concept that any INS official hears certainly in San Ysidro and probably anywhere else. Keep the traffic moving. I think the average is an inspector has 45 seconds to clear a car coming through that port of entry at San Ysidro.
I remember in 1990 I had come to Washington and worked at the Treasury Department where I had oversight of the Customs service. And in January of 1990, my colleague and I were taken to Buffalo, New York to inspect the border customs facilities at Niagra, I guess that's where it is. And the community and the customs officials were very upset because of the long delays it took for people to come across the border at that particular port of entry so having come from San Diego where if you get across the border in less than an hour, you know, it's a good day, I arrived in Buffalo and the port director was telling me about the horrible delays that they had. I asked him, "Well how long are they?" He said, "Well, it gets up to 15 minutes sometime." And I thought well, I guess we know a little bit about priorities and about how things work on the two different borders.
But 15 minutes was viewed as grossly unfair in Canada on the Canadian border whereas in other places, it would be a -- you'd pay if you could get across in 15 minutes.
Another example and Mark again touched on this. When I was at Treasury, every summer as the Assistant Secretary for Enforcement, I would get deluged with complaints from the airline industry about the delays at most of the major airports in the United States that were impacted by summer tourism and traffic and travel. And the complaint was that Customs and INS were causing huge delays in processing the people after they got off the airplane. So we looked into it and discovered that the airlines, of course, are setting the schedule.
And so when you have for whatever reason, in fact as Mark indicated, when it is convenient -- it's the best marketing tool to have a plane land in Honolulu at noontime so every airline has a plane land in Honolulu at noontime so you get ten 747's landing simultaneously and all those people trying to clear Customs in the same time period. And so I suggested why don't you change your airline schedule? Why don't you spread these flights out over some period of time so that INS and the border and the Customs can respond with -- no absolutely not. That was not going to be permitted. And I discovered that neither Customs nor INS has any say in how airlines schedule international flights. Again, I think a sign of the impact of the private sector, the influence that they have over good government and the ability of government to do its job.
Fourth observation, and again several of my colleagues have touched on this already but the total lack of any interior enforcement effort by INS. I mean what we have today is a grownup game of hide and go seek. If you can sneak past the border patrol at the border or through the inspector at an airport or a port of entry, you're home free. No one's going to look for you and the tragedy is it was not always that way. When Mark started, when Bill started, INS regularly had interior enforcement activities and probably had continued up until the last 10 or 12 years. I began to see this erode in the 80's when I was the U.S. Attorney in San Diego and every time INS would start some kind of a work site, what did we call them in those days, yeah, area control operation or whatever the euphemism was, they'd get sued. Some special interest group in the community would file a lawsuit which would tie INS up in knots for years. And so the Justice Department got very nervous about doing these kinds of activities and wanted to avoid these lawsuits and so that started the movement toward not doing any interior enforcement.
Essentially, the only interior enforcement that's done these days is the criminal alien program and where we have done a wonderful job of deporting what, 150,000 or I don't even know what the number is, but large, probably the largest numbers of people deported in the history of the country. Most of whom are criminal aliens and those certainly are people we should get rid of. But that's not all we should do. We've got eight million people here illegally, most of whom are not criminal aliens and they're home free. We have removed any disincentives, we have made people know that they are secure once they get past the border, we have refused to put in place any incentives for them to leave.
You know, we couple that with the employer sanction provisions of IRCA failed miserably. Congress since 1986 or soon thereafter realized that the program wasn't going to work under its present system. They played around with ways to come up with verification programs, none of which have been implemented and so we still have no way to demagnetize these job market.
We couple this with the abysmal effort by the Labor Department to do anything about enforcing labor laws and the minimum wage provisions and OSHA provisions.
Let me skip ahead here. Inter-agency disconnects. INS and the Border Patrol presumably they share information although sometimes I'm not sure about that either, but certainly between INS and Customs, DEA, the FBI, there is no system that requires these agencies to interact. We have set up intelligence groups, EPIC where Mark worked for a while which is a joint intelligence -- drug intelligence center in El Paso. We've set up regional and local ones but it's all sort of a play if you want. If you want to provide assistance, you can, but if you don't want to, you don't and so we've seen INS essentially be shut out of a lot of information sharing with the FBI especially for a long time. Terrorists, drug traffickers, criminal aliens, illegal aliens, all profit equally from a porous border control system whether measured at land borders, seaports, airports, between the ports, seacoasts, wherever. We've got thousands of thousands of miles and everyone profits from the current system.
We've been talking about reorganizing agencies for years, for decades, whether we need a border management agency that combines INS and Customs and the Coast Guard. That idea has been studied since 1973 when DEA was first created. We've had proposals now for homeland security agencies with some of those agencies and others. We've had, you know, ideas about reorganizing INS for at least since the mid-90's. We've had -- recently talked of the FBI is overwhelmed now. They want to focus on terrorism so they're going to maybe shed some of their responsibilities to other agencies. Hard to believe that the FBI would ever give anything up.
But one way or another, each of these ideas is being pursued piecemeal as opposed to comprehensively. If we're going to reorganize federal law enforcement, let's do it all at the same time so that the left hand and the right hand both get what they deserve and aren't slighted in the process.
I guess I would go back to the last point I will make is about documents. Any agency at any level of government that issues a document should do the best that it can to make sure the document cannot be reproduced or counterfeited and that it's issued to someone who deserves to have it. This is off-the-shelf technology these days. But whether you're talking about a state issuing a driver's license, which is a de facto ID card; I mean I was reminded of that yesterday as I was flying here from California.
Both airports I had to go through, you know, you have to show a quote, government issued ID to get on the airplane. Well, unless you work for the government, that's probably going to be your driver's license. So if a state like California or several other states around the country are now issuing driver's licenses intentionally to illegal aliens, what's the point? How secure is that document? I mean how good are you going to feel about getting on a plane with somebody who snuck into this country and now has created a new identity by getting a driver's license from any state that authorizes it?
Now California, the bill was on the governor's desk on 9/11. He refused to sign it. It was pulled back by the legislature for obvious political reasons, public relations reasons. And now it appears that it may have gone into effect inadvertently, because when they withdrew it they didn't do it by a vote of the state legislature. And since the governor didn't sign it or take action within 30 days, it may have automatically gone into force anyway.
Well, whether California solves its problem now, there's other states that have already done this. I mean why are we allowing people to create false identifies to hide in plain sight? It makes no sense. Social Security cards. There's no reason why we should be issuing Social Security cards that we can't tell who it belongs to and that it's valid.
I agree with Mark; we don't need a national identity card in the sense that the Europeans and most of the rest of the world have national ID cards. But we do need to make sure that whatever documents we issue can't be misused, and there is a way to do that.
And I guess finally, again I reiterate the point I made earlier. Congress -- I think this is what's Mark point is. Congress has created the immigration system that we have and they did it intentionally. It's time for Congress to accept any of the recommendations they've received over the last 20 years to fix all of these problems. This isn't rocket science. Almost everything that is wrong with the system, someone in INS or someone on some commission or someone somewhere has figured out a way to solve that problem. And the reason Congress hasn't acted on it is they don't want it to work.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Pete. And the last panelist will be Ed Grant.
JUDGE GRANT: Thank you, Mark. Thank you, fellow panelists. I am unique among the members of this panel for at least three reasons, the first of which is probably you don't know the collective wisdom that is up here, collective experience far dwarfs mine, which is now coming up on 10 years in the immigration system. So it's a pleasure to be up with this group and with this audience. I recognize many people here who also have vast experience and wisdom on this issue.
Second, I'm a judge; and therefore, to some degree you have to tape my mouth shut, because there's a lot you can say if you have a case before me if you're a lawyer or a applicant, but perhaps a little less than I can say about policy. But I think you've gotten a lot of policy ideas here; I'm going to add a few from the perspective of a judge.
And finally, I'm the only one who's still in the system. I don't know what that says. Perhaps these people really are wise to have gotten out when they did. But I want to put perhaps a little bit of a different riff on the larger picture as a result of the fact that I'm still in the system.
I entered the INS as an attorney, just a regular line attorney in the general counsel's office in January of 1992, having had no experience in immigration law but wanting to work in the government and the Department of Justice in particular, and this is what was available. So there I was then and here I am now.
And not to put too fine a point on it, but the scent of backwater was pervasive in that agency. What has been described here, certainly the folks who had experience in the INS, particularly Mark and Bill, long before 1992 and for several years after that I'm sure can attest to this, but I think have not described it to the extent that I encountered it.
It was -- I'm not going to say it was embarrassing to work there, but it was absolutely clear that this was an agency that was so underfunded, was so underutilized, or so under -- well, underfunded is one thing, but where people just did not pay attention to its mission, did not consider it important. You could tell that instantly from your interactions with any outside agency, including those in the Department of Justice, the FBI, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I think it has been ably described here by both Mark and Pete and some of their comments about it.
And it has gotten better. It is not where it ought to be, but we are in a hell of a lot better position than we were in 1992, in my view. Part of that is the greater profile of the issue and part of it is greater resources. The budget has more than quadrupled, maybe it's gone up about five times. $6 billion now, I think, approximately for the INS. We spent $7 billion on Halloween; we spent $35 billion, at least some of that money we don't know of for secrecy reasons, on national intelligence. I think 10 to $12 billion for all of the various things that we ask the immigration related agencies to do is -- not only doesn't shock the conscience, I think it's perfectly reasonable in this day and age given what we ask the agencies to do. I still think it's the case, even with a $6 billion budget.
Now the agency I work for, which is not part of the INS executive office or immigration review, is a tiny, tiny percentage slice. We're not part of the INS budget, but often time we're thought as part of it because when the INS gets an increase that means more deportations, more charges, that sort of thing. So they tend to up our budget to add more judges and the other things that we need, but we are a tiny fraction of that.
I don't think any agencies are asked to do more with less, because of the multifarious nature of the task that has been described up here, everything from -- obviously the state department isn't part of the INS budget, but everything from that aspect to visa control and the part that INS has with that, all the way up to the role that we play at the Board of Immigration Appeals in terms of being perhaps the top of the pyramid.
Let me just describe briefly what we are. We are the appeals board from decisions of, for the most part, of the immigration judges. The immigration judges, about 220 of them, sit in 50 courts around the country. And they hear deportation removal cases, what are called now removal cases, and the fundamental issues are whether a person is legally present in the United States or not; and even if they are legally present, if they committed some action which forfeits their right to legal presence, usually having committed a crime.
And then the forms of relief that people often apply for, and this is most often people who are not legally in the country, is dominated by political asylum, or I should say asylum, because it's not always politically based. And there's other forms of relief that are available to people, particularly cancellation or removal, one for people who have committed crimes and one for people who haven't. But asylum is obviously a big issue. I'm going to talk a fair amount about that today.
I think it's also very important; this is something that hasn't changed and I think has been alluded to up here; is that the immigration agencies are, although they may seem politically awkward and do some politically awkward things at times, are perhaps not to the best of their abilities, but certainly to a degree that they're able to muster, are politically sensitive, politically attuned. As Mr. Dooley famously once said about the supreme court, the agencies follow the election returns. And I think that's clear that that happens and Congress does act in various ways, even sometimes within the same legislation, certainly sometimes within the same session of Congress. And that is something that the agencies have to deal with. I think Mark has described that very well.
I want to talk a bit about asylum because I think while it has not -- it was very famously brought to the forefront in relation to the first attack on the World Trade Center, which I might remind all of us, I think I need this reminder from time-to-time, that had that car been placed -- or that truck bomb been placed in a slightly different area of that parking garage, we would have lost the World Trade Centers or at least one of the buildings eight years ago. I think that's a very sobering thought.
I think when we look back on the history of the 1990's, I think it is a little bit hard to have that perspective now, because I think we're all in shock that this has happened to us, that these two buildings aren't there; I mean sort of the bad dream thing. But when we wake up from that and get a little more perspective I think objective observers are going to say "Well, wait a minute. This country was -- this particular target was attempted to be brought down in 1993 and these various things led to that, and eight years later it was successful. What was done in that eight year period?"
I think that's where the judgment is going to come down. And that's really not something for us to discuss today, but I would leave it out there because I think a lot of the things we are discussing today are things that people, those objective observers, historians, et cetera, are going to be asking about in the future.
The reason I focus a bit on asylum is because it is something which is, if you talk about the crosscurrents in our immigration system between control and compassion and between enforcement and service, really nothing speaks to those issues and those crosscurrents better than the political asylum system. And not surprisingly so, because as far back as our founding, our colonial founding, not our nation's founding, asylum, the flight from persecution, it's always been part of the fabric of our nation. And sometimes it has been perhaps over idealized and sometimes it's perhaps been over criticized.
Perhaps good reasons for both of that, but I think we go from everything from that our asylum policy is writ large on the base of the Statue of Liberty in Emma Lazarus's poem on the one hand, to the thought on the other hand that every asylum applicant who comes here illegally is a potential terrorist. Now that is an exaggeration, but there was certainly a lot of concern about the asylum system in the wake of the '93 World Trade Center bombings, because at least one of those individuals involved had received asylum in this country.
And I think it is very important to relate the issue of asylum these days in terms of the reality, the reality that I see with the issue of alien smuggling. Because a very great number, if not the majority of the political asylum applicants whose cases have first been seen by the INS and then seen by an immigration judge, and the appeals, either a service appeal from a grant of asylum by an immigration judge or an alien appeal from a denial of asylum by the immigration judge, come before us at the Board of Immigration Appeals. And the vast majority of those people, I've done a count, but it certainly seems to me, at least from certain countries, got here through alien smuggling.
I mean they got a bad document; they got someone to get a ticket; they went on some circuitous route from Fujon Province to Bangkok to Burma, Frankfort, someplace in South America and up through Mexico, or something more direct. Sometimes it's the ships, the Golden Venture, the recent ship that was stopped off the coast of Australia. The business of alien smuggling to a large degree depends on the possibility that the people being smuggled, at least some percentage of them, are going to be able to either get a grant of asylum if they get to a western developed country such as the United States or, because of the way the asylum system and process works, are at least going to be able to stay here.
Now again, there's been vast improvement in that system. The number of asylum applications today is far less than it was; I think the peak year was 1993, might have been 1994. Because of some administrative reforms that were put in by the INS, as well as some reforms enacted by Congress in '96, there is a greater -- far less incentives to gain the system through just outright walking in the door claiming asylum and then disappearing. That is less of a possibility now than it was then.
However, that is not to say that there are not some severe problems that face adjudicators in determining who ought to get asylum and who should not. How much should we count the fact that a person was smuggled in. That's a point of controversy, but in fact it's not counted very much. Usually it's said, "Well, we don't care how the person got here. If they were persecuted they ought to get relief." I throw that out there. It's part of our law. I wonder if in the discussion over reforms whether that's something that might be taken into consideration.
More people are detained now, so there's less chance of at least everybody who claims asylum melting into the system and not being heard from again, but there is that fact. And I think what's connected to that is the whole question of identity.
There's no question that a person ought to be able to come to this country; it's under our law; claim asylum, get a fair hearing, and even perhaps be granted asylum even if they're not able to present firm, corroborative proof. The law that's developed on asylum says if a person's fleeing perhaps they weren't able to get documents that prove that they were persecuted, police warrants or whatever. But no one should have the right to get asylum if their identity has not been firmly established. And that is something that's very difficult under the current law and procedures to do.
One case became a case of great celebrity, case by the name of Abanqua, which was returned by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals reversing our decision for re-adjudication and presumptively grant of asylum. Well, it turned out that that case -- and it's just one case, but it shows some of the flaws in the system -- was based completely on identity fraud. The person making the claim had stolen the identity of another person, who eventually came forward after some investigative work by the Government. And it was determined that the person that made the claim and who'd gotten a fair amount of celebrity backing for their claim and had won a case at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, one of our most prestigious federal circuit courts, was entirely based on a lie.
We have a situation which involves a lot more cases of an attorney in New York who has been indicted on, I believe a 70 count indictment, racketeering and down the list, for an incredibly sophisticated system of generating false asylum claims. And there have been people in that business, natarios (phonetic) operating out of San Francisco -- excuse me, out of the Los Angeles area; there have been people down in Miami with sort of patterned or boilerplate claims involving Haitians.
But this involves immigrants from China, mostly making claims based on coercive family planning practices in China. And the indictment is a matter of public record, can be obtained from the U.S. Attorney's office; the name of the defendant is Robert Porges, is a Harvard graduate, attorney. And again, innocent till proven guilty, but the indictment charges that the scheme was so sophisticated that they would tailor the complexity of the claim that was being given to this person to make by the education level and the ability to articulate that claim of the individual. The two minute sign I wrote for myself, so --
Anyway, so I think in order to maintain a viable asylum system, which is, I think, essential for us to meet our legal obligations, our international obligations and I think the best traditions of this country, some of these issues with regard to identity, the interconnection between alien smuggling and asylum, and how do we best determine, without putting too much of a burden and too onerous a burden on the asylum applicant that what they're reporting is actually true. And I think there's a lot of aspects that I didn't get into them in questions, or if you buy me a beer I'll even give you more detail. I think it needs to be done.
Let me just run through a couple of policy things that I think are probably worth considering. First of all, the 1996 act which is mentioned up here. I was a staffer on the hill with regard to that act. And I was actually pleased with the Patriot Act recently passed, the 2001 bill, that Congress apparently felt that there was not a lot that needed to be added to the immigration law in terms of specific terrorist provisions, because some of them were included in the '96 act as well as in some previous things. And actually several of the things that Congress did in the Patriot Act was to -- sort of a sense of Congress that here are some things that were passed in '96, INS, State Department, you ought to go about enforcing those a little more strongly.
I think something that was taken out of the '96 act, and again, I'm -- I should have said this at the beginning. I'm speaking not for the Department of Justice here, but -- so don't ascribe my view to -- don't go to legislative affairs and say are you supporting this. But I think it probably was not a good idea in retrospect to repeal that part of the '96 act that called for federalized standards for state driver's licenses and identity cards. You know, I don't want to get into the whole debate about a national ID card, but in Virginia, until recently, it was legally very easy for someone to take an identity and get a driver's license. And as a resident of the great Commonwealth of Virginia, I found that fairly offensive.
So I think a lot of stuff in terms of what legislation might be needed, well, I think Congress has. Although the president's looking for some more stuff and has sort of issued sort of a call for some greater -- a re-look at some immigration policies, I think a lot of stuff is already on the books and I think it's going to be up to Congress and the agencies to decide how to fund that. Remember, Congress can pass all these laws. If they don't fund it, and I'm going to repeat at the end here, I don't think I can get in trouble with Department of Justice for saying this. Immigration ought to be at 10 to $12 billion a year. I just flatly believe that. The extent to which it was underfunded when I entered the immigration service in 1992 is only becoming more clear as these events unfold. The numbers are very important.
I'm going to put one thing out here which is purely a personal view that I think perhaps ought to be looked at in the medium to long term. Currently the decisions of the immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals are reviewable by any of the geographic U.S. circuit courts of appeals, of which there are 12 in this country. This has created a situation, and continues to create a situation because of the complexity of immigration law, of varying interpretations of what's supposed to be one unified federal immigration law. There's no state variances here, no geographic. This is not a matter of federalism. This is one unified federal immigration law.
It is being interpreted in different ways, with different legal standards, in different circuits. The supreme court cannot possibly resolve all of those conflicts. It's just not going to take all of the cases. It will take some. It took a couple this year, but that's a glacial thing to ask for the supreme court to resolve all that. And perhaps some consideration ought to be given as to how that ought to be addressed. It's -- strictly speaking as an adjudicator, it is more and more of an issue and we spend more of our time the Board of Immigration Appeals trying to figure out, because we want to have a national plan.
The reason we exist is -- existed since 1940 is to have a uniform administrative interpretation of the law. And it's very hard to do that when the Ninth Circuit's saying one thing, the Seventh's saying another, the Second's saying, the Fifth is saying another. And that is increasingly the case, not just in the area of asylum, but it's in criminal law areas as well. Thank you.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks. We will take some Q&A now for -- and I will switch sides. Let's start from this side. And can you identify yourself, ma'am?
MS. MALONE: Yes. My name is Julia Malone. I'm with Cox. I have a question for the judge.
We've been hearing that there's something like 300,000 so-called absconders, people who have gone through your court system and have been told that they are to be deported and have gotten final orders, but were never actually deported because they just vanished out of sight. I just wondered what your thoughts are about that and how that could be changed.
JUDGE GRANT: Well, there's probably a number of things. First of all, the thought is you try not to think about that too much because you see a lot of those cases every day and you spend time trying to make the right decision. And if you thought about the fact at the end of the day, well, I rendered however many decisions I rendered -- and the board does 30,000 adjudications a year, so we do a lot each day -- that 80 percent of these orders aren't going to be enforced, it wouldn't -- the traffic is bad enough driving home here. It certainly wouldn't make the drive home anymore pleasant.
So on the more serious side, I think it is a question of priorities. We often say at the board -- and this cuts across our ideological spectrum at the board, which we have one -- if there was a greater connect between the cases that the INS brings in, the cases that the INS really wants to bring to conclusion by putting some kind of custody control on people after an order has been entered and actually removing those people, I think we would all feel a little better about the process. I mean just getting the numbers of deportation orders doesn't accomplish very much. It just sort of brands someone with the status IE or a deportee, but we haven't done anything about you.
I think part of the money that I'm talking about, the most underfunded and perhaps most effective part of the INS is its legal proceedings program. And this one I will get up on top of the table and talk about, because it has just, with all of the expansion and enforcement and all of that, the line attorneys at the INS are asked to do an absolutely impossible job, given the case loads they have and the number of motions and briefs and everything they have to do. I don't see how they do it.
That needs to be greatly expanded. And I think someone in Congress has just got to get on that and say this is done, because the money just disappears. It goes into other things at INS, I'm sure very worthy things, but it's not going to legal proceedings program. And that is something that needs to be done; the attorneys are way overworked. And I think if you had more of those resources available you would have a more rational system.
MR. NUNEZ: I would like to add onto that from a slightly different perspective, as part of my part that ran beyond the two minute warning. But it's basically the concept of the rule of law. What we've basically created in this system on paper, if you look at the Immigration Act, there's lots of parts of that that look reasonable and thorough, but when you consciously ignore its enforcement you undermine the whole concept of the rule of law in this country. You create an aura, a system of disrespect, where anybody in the world knows that we don't enforce our immigration laws at almost any level.
So I agree with what Ed said. I think it is a travesty for a court to issue an order and then essentially nothing happens. I mean there couldn't be anything more corrosive to the concept of the rule of law than to have court orders disregarded. So I think part of it is a lack of the will by Congress to address the issue; it is the lack of resources. But somebody in INS or somebody in the Justice Department has to prioritize this kind of a case as something that you're not going to let go. And so while Congress can do a lot to help solve the problem, it seems to me a lot of it is just prioritizing within INS and within the Marshal's Service, who are we going to go look for, which kind of fugitives are we going to place at the top of the list. And clearly capital murderers and others, I suppose, go first, but you cannot ignore this kind of case.
It again goes back to what I started off by saying, and I think Ed echoed it. INS has never been viewed by anybody in government as an important agency. So whatever it is they're doing over there, it can't be important.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Pete. Yes.
MS. SMITH: I'm Lisa Smith with the Mexico City News. I was wondering if anyone could comment on the legislation being proposed by, on the one hand, Senators Feinstein and Senator -- the senator from Arizona, and Senator Brownback and Senator Kennedy.
MR. KRIKORIAN: I will take a whack at that. It is an interesting indication of how immigration doesn't split along party lines. Brownback and Kennedy are obviously Republican and Democrat, and likewise with Senator Kyl and Senator Feinstein. And the -- and I'm not speaking for anyone here, so I don't want anybody to get in trouble with the Department of Justice or anywhere else, but in effect the Feinstein/Kyl approach is, although as Bill had suggested, it is not the complete answer. It is a much tougher and more realistic approach to the issue.
I mean one of the most important things they call for is something Jessica mentioned, essentially a kind of smart card for foreign visitors that would be used when they were entering the country, when they were leaving, sort of a credit card visa if you will.
Now my take on the legislation introduced by Senators Kennedy and Brownback is, in effect, that it's a political response. It is an attempt to do as little as possible while avoiding exposure to charges of not doing anything.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: To this distinguished panel I have a question which has to do with asylum, where there's a growing fear among the students that their visas will be restricted. That's what we have been hearing. What level of extradition (inaudible) on the part of the State Department?
MS. VAUGHAN: Well, I'm not quite sure about the link between political asylum and student visas. I think it's impossible to say at this point whether we're going to see a drop in student visas or not. What I think is clear is that they need to be scrutinized more -- a lot more carefully than they have been, both at the point at which they're issued or not issued and at the time that they enter the United States and pursue their course of studies, if that is in fact their entry point. Whether that will happen, I'm not sure.
MR. REED: I will tell you what I think might happen; and I can tell you again, to go along with what Mark was saying, why it's so important that people are at least talking about this. I do believe there will probably be some restrictions and the restrictions are going to come about because people want to protect the process. If the public has no confidence in the process, then I think that it is in extreme danger of becoming extinct.
And so what the government needs to do now is to start building in some safeguards into a system which has been identified as being vulnerable. So I think you're probably going to see a lot of discussion, maybe some false starts, but I think you're going to see some people very focused on what do we need to do to preserve this system so that it continues to function so that people don't lose confidence in it. I don't think the public has got a lot of sympathy right now for systems that are -- appear to be openly abused and openly vulnerable without the government taking some action.
So will there be some restrictions? I hope so. I think it would be good for students if they are monitored. I think that will keep the door open, I think that will keep them in school, and I think it will relieve a lot of the anxieties the American public have right now.
So is there a restriction? Yes, but is it something that would probably be well received to preserve the system? I think so. I hope so.
MS. VAUGHAN: And one piece of evidence that what Mark said is probably going to happen is the fact that higher education as an industry has already come out and renounced its previous opposition to these kinds of systems to track students. Their opposition to any effort to get a handle on the number and the kind of student visas that are issued was really shameful before, and I think that that has been a complete 180, if not 360 degree turn on the part of most of higher education. They know that they need foreign students and they know that it is going to be up to them to help make sure that they're not abused.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I would like to direct my question to Mr. Reed, given your experience on multi-levels in the INS. I would like to ask you about restructuring INS and this concept of separating service from enforcement, and particularly addressing the huge pending caseloads at INS. I think at the end of this fiscal year we were up to 4.8 million cases before your adjudications and nationality program. At some level it seems to me what is done at ports of entry have to be akin to what the adjudications officers do at the district level. And the same with the visa issuance too, that they take some documentation, they weigh it, and the person is either admissible or they're inadmissible.
So having said that, what I want to ask you is if you feel the adjudication of these claims is a legitimate tool to manage immigration; and that by separating service from enforcement we won't achieve greater enforcement in the long run, but rather what we will have is an agency that is on the rump end of things, probably underfunded, will continue to have these long pending caseloads, in which case people's status in the United States here will be a never, never land, never really fully adjudicated, and we won't achieve greater efficiency in the long run by separating these services.
MR. REED: I think what you speak to is the amount of integration involved from one discipline in INS to the next. And if you look back at history, I think you'll see that the agency was grown because the nation started recognizing how closely integrated and related all these issues were, so it made sense to bring together under one umbrella. I used to defend the current structure. I do believe that integration is important. If they break that up they're going to have to do an awful lot of work to be sure that the interconnectivity stays in place.
But let me say this. INS has been wrestling with restructure for 10 years at least. I think it is to some extent paralyzing the agency and I think it is time to get over it. So if restructuring is what it takes to put this behind the agency and let them get back to work, for crying out loud do it, but they've got to stop studying this thing. They've got -- this has got to stop being the subject of one priority meeting after another and they've got to get back to the business of work, and that is most important.
So I've now become an advocate for restructure, because I don't think it's ever going to go away until it happens.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Why not get to the priority of hiring additional adjudications officers to deal with the pending caseloads, and you're also giving a fair shake to these potential immigrants all across the country?
MR. REED: I think your point is well taken, and that's another reason why I think there needs to be a restructure. One of the things I used to deal with when I would go out and try to talk to the public about why there was a backlog in adjudications and why they weren't being taken care of, I would say there is no money. Then somebody over here would jump up and say "What the heck do you mean there's no money? You just got a billion dollars. You're hiring border patrol agents. Stop hiring those border patrol agents and start putting some people over here." Then I would try to explain to them why I didn't have the authority to hire examiners rather than border patrol agents, and it really got -- I could tell it was just -- people were just zoning out on me.
So as long as you've got those two things integrated like that, the public expects there to be a lot more flexibility in management capacity in the agencies than there is. I think if you split the agency a little bit and you have one that's clearly over here and you have another over here, then you start having that dialogue that you want to have on the specific resources for a specific purpose and then hold those people responsible for that and then deal with the integration issues. As long as there's not enough resources to go around people are going to be trying to force the agency to move them back and forth, and it doesn't happen under this structure.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: You've been asked about the Brownback and Kennedy and Sensenbrenner bills. I'm curious if the panel has any thoughts on some of the more -- some of the other proposals such as coming out of the House Immigration Reform caucus, the moratorium and also some of the proposals you're talking about.
Let me rephrase that. Whether it would have a chance of getting through in the president's package.
MR. NUNEZ: At least from our personal perspective, I've looked at the reform caucuses. I think it is 15 points in their release. I they're all going in the right direction. There are some that don't go far enough, and it's sort of a common complaint that I have about lots of the people that are talking today about doing things they should have been doing or they wish they had been doing or they wanted to do in the future. There's been sort of an inordinate focus, for example, on student visas. I mean it's a very small part of this huge non-immigrant flow that comes into the U.S. And so certainly we ought to deal with the student visa problem, but not exclusively.
We have 8 million illegal aliens in this country. Between INS and the Census Bureau they tell us 40 percent of them are over stayers. So what's that, 3.2 million overstayers? They're not all students. Not seeing congressmen and senators and people in the executive branch talk about how we need to go find all of these student visa overstayers and locate, arrest and remove, or some other segment, but no one yet has said, "Hey, we need to go find as many of the 8 million people that are here illegally as we can and start proceeding against all of them." They've all violated the same laws or similar laws, I guess you could say.
It isn't even a crime, as I understand it, to overstay your visa. If you come in legally and you overstay it's a criminal offense, I mean it is a deportable offense. You can be removed, but there is no statute. It is not an illegal entry, which requires an entry at a time and place other than is designated or use of a false statement.
You cannot prosecute someone even who came in illegally. It's very difficult, let me put it that way. It's very difficult to prosecute an illegal alien for illegal entry unless you catch them essentially where he illegally entered, because if they came in six months ago in San Diego and now you catch them in New York, well, they're out of status. They can be deported, they had committed a crime, but it's essentially unprosecutable because of venue problems, evidentiary problems, et cetera.
All of these problems are easily fixed. There's a phrase in the re-entry act of deportation statute that says "If you re-enter after having been deported or if you are found in the United States after having been previously deported, that itself is a criminal offense and you can be prosecuted where you are found." All we need to do is to add that phrase to the illegal entry statute and now you can focus -- no, I'm not suggesting that all 8 million illegal entries be prosecuted. I mean it's a virtual impossibility. But at least you are sending the message that at the right time and the right place, under the right circumstances, you're going to enforce the immigration law; it is not a paper tiger.
MR. REED: I agree with everything Pete said, but I think there's a deeper issue here that Congress needs to be pushed on and I think what you're going to see is a lot of stuff coming up to deal with symptoms without dealing with the causes. A lot of that legislation I think is necessary because the environment needs to be changed right now.
The environment right now, as Pete said earlier, is compliance is really not expected by anyone, by the government nor the participants. So you need to change that environment. I suspect that if certain actions were taken and some presence was felt out into the community that that would change the compliance level. I really believe that a lot of the people that are noncompliant, or the majority of the people that are noncompliant do not have any ill will. They're just going along with the system like everybody else. That's for non-immigrants.
For people that are crossing this border and those 8 million people in the United States, most of those are not -- did not come in as non-immigrants. They're coming in to get work. As long as this country is going to have a neon sign that says "Jobs available, come on in," and the moment they get that job there is absolutely no consequential risk, people are going to try to figure out a way to get here.
And so if we're not going to address that issue, it is going to make it very difficult for people on the line, the border patrol agents on the line and the immigration service, to ever be able to prioritize the work. They're going to end up chasing their tail. They're going to end up removing one person while somebody else is coming in. They're going to be in over here while something over here is being taken care of. Somehow the numbers have got to be reduced.
Presence for non-immigrants saying that we expect you to comply, there's consequential risk, and we're going to do something about it is absolutely essential to non-immigrants coming in on visas. For those people who are coming here for work, there needs to be a statement made that these jobs are no longer going to be available to you. If there's not jobs available, people are not going to come here. They're not -- Mexicans are not fleeing their country because they want to get away from Mexico. They're coming here because they want work and they want to prosper like all of us do.
Now I suggest that a piece of doing that is providing a way they can come in and be monitored just like non-immigrants. I think that this nation needs that kind of a labor force. I think it would be foolish to shut that border off. But regardless, that issue has got to be tackled; and if it's not tackled, if the jobs issue is not tackled, all the rest of this stuff is superficial. It is dealing with symptoms. It will never get to the cause and this will not get fixed.
MR. KING: Can I add to that? If you take the Tucson sector as an example, this last year there were 159,000 apprehensions made at or near the border. What's scary is the fact that even the border patrol admits that for every one apprehended or arrested, five more get through. If you do the math, that's a pretty frightening number.
I've watched. I wish I had compared what I learned over the 44 years that I've been around this problem also, because I've watched this whole thing grow from a point when I was a younger agent in the 50's, where nationally we were arresting fewer than 50,000 people a year. By 1986 we were arresting 1,600,000. My point is that this country is growing population-wise through illegal entry to astronomical proportions. There is no price to pay, as I think Pete said, about illegal immigration.
If out of those 159,000, for example, many were repeat offenders, they know that if they're caught that they will simply be returned across the border. They wait five minutes, they try again. I've seen that happen time and time again. So somewhere along the line we have to get control of our immigration enforcement policies, because to keep sending that signal that it's okay to come, there's no price to pay, is just going to continue to increase that illegal population.
MS. VAUGHAN: In the same way that a few selected speeding tickets given out helps everybody slow down. I think some careful and a little bit more effort at enforcing in the interior will prevent a lot of it, because as Mark said, most of these people are decent people. They're just taking advantage of the opportunity that we offer them.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I'm with the National Post. How would the people on the panel assess the situation on the Canadian border? And would you favor any kind of visa system or ID card system to enter the U.S., or is the current system working?
MR. REED: I have an opinion about everything, so let me start off and that will get these guys going real quick.
I was in Toronto last week and I noticed one of the headquarters (sic) up there was the fact that President Bush was asking Canada to get a little bit closer to us in terms of having our immigration policies mirror each other. I think the philosophy being that if Canada did have immigration policies and procedures that were very close to ours, that Canada would in fact become part of our perimeter protection in terms of immigration.
So I think there is the right kind of dialogue happening right there. And if we can depend on Canada to screen people that becomes yet another tier of enforcement that we can build into our enforcement strategies.
MS. VAUGHAN: But we can't abdicate to Canada our responsibility to protect our own borders. We need to have more than an orange cone in the lane in Swanton, Vermont. We need to staff those borders and make sure that there are no holes. We can't give up that responsibility to Canada.
MR. REED: Well, I didn't think I agreed with Bill, but if that's what we need to do, we need the military. I don't know if many of you have seen that border up there, but that is one heck of a big border and stopping those holes is not something we're going to do easily.
MR. KING: If I may, I worked 11 years on the northern border in various capacities, but this is not new. Canada's immigration policies have been so lax with respect to the admission of non-immigrants particularly, that I can go back to 1968 or 1969 when I was a supervisor just below Montreal, where I, along with another supervisor and eight agents, arrested people from 32 different countries coming across that one specific border area. That was 30 years ago. It hasn't changed that much.
But the idea of having 400 people or 300 people from the border patrol and 4,000 miles of border needs to be readjusted. If we could get Canada to comply with what has been suggested it would be great, but in the meantime we have to take care of our own. If you recall, last year I guess it was, at what was it, at the state of Washington border they apprehended the terrorist intent upon blowing LAX off the face of the map. But there's a lot that can happen on the Canadian border and I think they've got to pay more attention to it.
JUDGE GRANT: Very briefly, two points about Canada.
One is there has been talk from time-to-time -- well, let me start with another first point. The supreme court in its most recent decision in the area of asylum, a case called Aguirre-Aguierra v. INS, came out of the Ninth Circuit, overturned a grant of asylum by the Ninth Circuit, which had in turn overturned a denial of asylum by the Board of Immigration Appeals. And at the board we win some, lose some, but in that opinion the court went back to a theme that it has stressed a number of times, one affirming the discretion of the agency to make judgments and tying that discretion specifically to the matter of foreign policy.
Which I meant to mention in my prior comments, but I think is important with all of this, and it's one of the reasons to give an agency or the immigration agencies, however they wind up being, a 10 to 12 or even more billion dollar budget is that very reason, that their functions are innately and intricately involved in foreign policy and national security. They are very important to that. And while it has a heavy domestic aspect to it, you can't forget that. And there's laws and procedures. It's not a willy-nilly, completely discretionary judgment, but it is -- you need to have the laws and procedures. But that all goes back to, at least at times, those kinds of things.
And actually what was involved in that case was whether to give asylum to somebody who had been engaged in the burning of buses in Guatemala as a sign of political protest. Just transliterate that to some other things that go on in other countries that are more severe than bus burnings and then coming here and claiming asylum; well, I'm going to be persecuted because I engaged in that.
And you see the point the supreme court is making, the second point involving specifically Canada, is perhaps it's time to restart discussions with Canada and perhaps with other countries on harmonization of asylum policy. Because I know this country grants asylum, at least under our law we have granted asylum to people from nations that are very rarely recipients of asylum in other developed nations with very fine, very protective asylum systems, and vice versa.
Now I'm not saying you're going to get 100 percent agreement, and everybody's going to have their own domestic laws and it's going to depend upon the flows, who's coming from the different countries and all that sort of thing. But these harmonization discussions, they sort of, you know, there's a big burst, well, this is something we need to do and then it sort of gets put on the back burner. And I'm wondering if that is not something that ought to be, because it is, as the president said, it is a global issue. And I think all of these things come up. It is not opportunism that we're raising all of this stuff. It is the events of September 11th that I think bring them into sharper focus.
MR. KRIKORIAN: A couple of more questions here.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: My question for any of you is how will these proposed changes affect innocent immigrants living legally in the United States, specifically Mexican or Hispanic immigrants?
JUDGE GRANT: Legal or illegal?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Legal.
JUDGE GRANT: It shouldn't have anything.
MS. VAUGHAN: If anything, it will help them, because if there's a general sense that we have gained control of one-half of the equation, which is refusing entry to people who are not eligible to come here, people will have more confidence in our ability to do a good job at admitting those who are eligible.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I have a question about the student visa, especially regarding China. As we know, a lot of Chinese students now are very anxious about the issue because there are a lot more people want to come to the United States to study. Under the immigration policy and control and tightening now, what kind of impacts are there to the Chinese students?
MS. VAUGHAN: The most likely impact, although we don't know for sure because nothing has been passed, is that those applications are going to be scrutinized a lot more thoroughly than they have been at this point. I think it is hard to get around that and it will be harder to get a student visa.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Regarding the number?
MS. VAUGHAN: I think that is a little bit hard to tell at this point. There's currently no restriction on the number of student visas that are issued. They're issued to people who are deemed to be qualified. There is no limit on that statutorily.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: The number of folks that are found deportable, what percentage would you say are not deported because of the inability to obtain travel documents?
JUDGE GRANT: From certain countries it's a very high percentage. And it is not just limited -- I mean it is publicly known that we're in negotiations with countries in Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, in order to obtain return of their nationals. In most case, sadly, people who came here lived most of their lives here, but have committed serious criminal offenses and are seeking to be deported. And these are among what are called the so-called lifers that are in detention. The Supreme Court addressed that issue in a recent decision and -- but there have been other countries that have been somewhat reluctant. I don't think -- I think it is an issue.
I don't think it's the majority, or anywhere near the majority of the people who have, going back to our first question here that we discussed. I think with the others, you walk out of immigration court, you have an order of removal, the judge gives you full advisal of your appeal rights. If you take an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals we might get to it in three months, six months, a year. Many times much longer than a year, unfortunately; we're trying to work on that.
And at the end we issue an order and say "We affirm the immigration judge" and the order is sent to you and/or your attorney, and well, there you are. There's an order against you and it's entered in an INS record and their -- and in the database, but unless they have some control over you they don't know that now is the time. And I think it's, I won't say completely arbitrary, but it is somewhat a roll of the dice in the grand scheme of things whether that order's going to be enforced or not.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let's take a last question, then you all can approach the panelists. Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Prior to the 11th we were long interested in a binational agreement with Mexico. Since then, how do you think the events of the 11th have changed that, both in terms of interest and if we can increase border security and binational migration and work together and move forward together? Is there an interest in that and are there resources to do both at the same time if there is an interest? It's just a general question.
MR. NUNEZ: The last phrase, there's not any resources to do what we're trying to do now, let alone more. It's obvious we don't have enough resources to do anything. If you add it on top of what we already are not doing, an amnesty or a guest worker program, I mean who's going to do that? What part of INS's present responsibilities are going to stop doing so that they can address either one of those two issues?
I guess one of the analogies, I suppose, that came to me a few days ago was if you wake up one morning and you walk down the stairs in your house and your house is flooded because the pipes in the wall burst overnight and your house is being flooded and water's gushing out of the wall, the first thing you're probably going to do is go out to the street and turn off the main valve so that the water stops flooding your house. You're going to do that before you can try to fix what's wrong.
So the idea of some sort of a slowdown or a moratorium is certainly not an illogical response given what we now know about our immigration system. So it seems to me the prudent thing to do would be to say timeout. We're going to fix all of these problems. And in the meantime, we don't have any. We've got backlogs that go back for what, three or four years, or however long you mentioned. And why are we adding to this workload while the system is broken?
So let's call a timeout, let's fix the system and then we will re-open for business so that we can once again become a nation of immigrants and a nation that abides by the rule of law, but right now we're neither.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Both the Congress and the administration were in favor of that. Do you think that slowdown you're calling for is also going to be coming out both those branches of government?
MR. NUNEZ: Well, the administration was clearly in favor of both things. I'm not sure the Congress was because it seemed that once the two presidents started talking about these two things, at least President Bush seemed to be getting some silent messages from some sources that either one or both of those ideas was not going to have an easy ride through Congress. In fact, when President Fox came up just before September 11th, the president, at least the press reports were that the president was trying to slow everything down because the political will in Congress was questionable to do those things.
Now I think at this point nobody in Congress is going to want to be talking about either of those issues until they sort out all the rest of this stuff.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Pete. We're going to have to cut it off there. The guests are -- you can all besiege them now, and -- if they're willing to talk to you, and I appreciate your coming. Thanks.