Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 06040467 (posted Apr. 4, 2006)"
COALITION FOR IMMIGRATION SECURITY
The undersigned each have held high-ranking positions in the Executive Branch with responsibilities for enforcing our immigration laws and securing our borders from those who would seek to harm the United States or violate its laws. We are proud to have been part of the effort since September 11, 2001, to secure our borders and bring integrity back to our immigration system.
As the Congress considers immigration legislation, some have portrayed the debate as one between those who advocate secure borders and those who advocate liberalized employment opportunities. This is a false dichotomy. The reality is that stronger enforcement and a more sensible approach to the 10-12 million illegal aliens in the country today are inextricably interrelated. One cannot succeed without the other. Without reform of laws affecting the ability of temporary, migrant workers to cross our borders legally, our borders cannot and will not be secure.
Since 9/11, the Executive Branch and Congress have worked together to make significant but incomplete efforts to secure our borders. Among the many accomplishments achieved are:
- Spending: Overall border enforcement spending is up 58% to $7.3 billion in 2005;
- Creation of CBP and ICE: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a single agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), devoted to securing our borders and with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country, and we created a single agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), devoted to enforcing our immigration laws in the interior of our country.
- US-VISIT: DHS deployed an integrated entry-exit immigration enforcement system, enrolling over 50 million travelers and identifying over 1000 criminals and inadmissible aliens.
- A Single, Consolidated Terrorist Watchlist: At the President's direction, the Terrorist Screening Center now maintains the nation's single, consolidated watchlist of known and suspected terrorists against which all applicants for entry into the country and all detained illegal entrants are now checked.
- SEVIS: DHS developed a student tracking system confirming over 870,000 students in the 2004-05 academic year and removing over 60,000 questionable schools from the program.
- Border Patrol: We have increased the number of agents by over 40% and deployed sophisticated equipment, including UAVs and sensors, to secure our borders.
- Expedited Removal: ER is now operational at all Southern Border sectors to deter illegal entry by non-Mexicans and to maximize use of available detention bedspace.
- Detention and Removal: ICE achieved a record number of approximately 160,000 deportations, including a historic number of 13,000 fugitives with outstanding orders of removal in FY04.
- Database Integration: DHS has integrated legacy databases such as IDENT and IAFIS to identify tens of thousands of persons arrested or wanted by federal or local law enforcement to be detained by CBP inspectors and Border Patrol agents.
- Application Backlog Reduction: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has reduced the backlog of benefit applications from a high of over 3.8M in January of 2004 to under 700,000 in January of 2006, a reduction of 83%.
These accomplishments and others have significantly improved the security to our international travel systems and laid the groundwork to achieve operational control of our land borders with Canada and Mexico.
Clearly, more must be done to strengthen enforcement, and we support additional programs and spending, such as increasing the numbers of Border Patrol agents, deploying more sophisticated technology through the Secure Border Initiative and additional infrastructure to build a "virtual" fence along the Southern Border; ending the "catch and release" policy, deportation procedures that allow for more streamlined litigation to deport illegal aliens, further build-out of entry-exit tracking and facilities, and strengthening our interior enforcement capabilities, such as fugitive operations teams at ICE.
But enforcement alone will not do the job of securing our borders. Enforcement at the border will only be successful in the long-term if it is coupled with a more sensible approach to the 10-12 million illegal aliens in the country today and the many more who will attempt to migrate into the United States for economic reasons. Accordingly, we support the creation of a robust employment verification system and a temporary worker program in the context of an overall reform of our border security and immigration laws.
With each year that passes, our country's shifting demographics mean we face a larger and larger shortage of workers, especially at the low-skilled end of the economy. Entire segments of the economy in a growing number of urban and rural areas depend on large illegal populations. Existing law allows only a small fraction of these workers even to attempt to enter the United States legally, even though our unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent.
Thus, each week our labor market entices thousands of individuals, most from Mexico but many from numerous other countries, to sneak across our border, or to refuse to leave when a temporary visa expires. These numbers add up: DHS apprehends over 1 million migrants illegally entering the United States each year, but perhaps as many as 500,000 get through our defenses every year and add to our already staggering illegal immigrant population. As believers in the free market and the laws of supply and demand, we believe border enforcement will fail so long as we refuse to allow these willing workers a chance to work legally for a willing employer.
Most such migrants are gainfully employed here, pay taxes, and many have started families and developed roots in our society. And an attempt to locate and deport these 10 to 12 million people is sure to fail and would be extraordinarily divisive to our country.
But others seeking to cross our borders illegally do present a threat - including potential terrorists and criminals. The current flow of illegal immigrants and people overstaying their visas has made it extremely difficult for our border and interior enforcement agencies to be able to focus on the terrorists, organized criminals, and violent felons who use the cloak of anonymity that the current chaotic situation offers.
An appropriately designed temporary worker program should relieve this pressure on the border. We need to accept the reality that our strong economy will continue to draw impoverished job seekers, some of whom will inevitably find a way to enter the country to fill jobs that are available. A successful temporary worker program should bring these economic migrants through lawful channels. Instead of crossing the Rio Grande or trekking through the deserts, these economic migrants would be interviewed, undergo background checks, be given tamper-proof identity cards, and only then be allowed in our country. And the Border Patrol would be able to focus on the real threats coming across our border. This will only happen, however, if Congress passes a comprehensive reform of our border security and immigration laws.
Moreover, current law neither deters employers who are willing to flout the law by hiring illegal workers, nor rewards employers who are trying to obey the law. Bogus documents abound, and there is currently no comprehensive and mandatory mechanism for employers to check the legality of a worker's status. An effective temporary worker program would include a universal employment verification system based on the issuance of secure, biometrically-based employment eligibility documents and an "insta-check" system for employers to confirm eligibility. We recognize the cost of such programs but believe the cost of the current morass is much greater.
Lastly, individuals who have maintained employment in the United States for many years without evidence of ties to criminal or terrorist behavior should be granted the opportunity to make in essence a plea bargain with law enforcement. By paying a stiff fine and undergoing a robust security check, these individuals can make amends for their mistake without crippling our economy and social structures by being part of a mass deportation. Each day that we fail to bring these people out of the shadows is another day of amnesty by default.
In conclusion, we encourage the Congress and Administration to work together to enact legislation that takes a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. We support strong immigration enforcement but it will only be successful when coupled with realistic policies related to our labor markets and economic needs.
Victor X. Cerda
Partner, Tew Cardenas LLP
Former Acting Director of Detention and Removal Operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Dr. Richard A. Falkenrath
Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
Former Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President
Former Director of Strategy, White House Office of Homeland Security
Partner, McKenna Long & Aldridge
Former Deputy General Counsel, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Admiral James M. Loy
Senior Counselor, The Cohen Group
Former Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Michael J. Petrucelli
Former Deputy Director and Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Seth M. M. Stodder
Senior Counsel, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP
Former Director of Policy and Planning, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
C. Stewart Verdery, Jr.
Principal, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Inc.
Adjunct Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Former Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Joseph D. Whitley
Partner, Alston & Bird
Former General Counsel, U.S. Department of Homeland Security