Promoting insecurity along our border
Congressional Republicans this week began staging coast-to-coast field hearings, beginning yesterday in San Diego, on immigration reform and border security. The American people should know that the Republican record on illegal immigration and border security is dismal. Republicans are running a single-issue campaign on an issue where they have failed.
The only good thing you can say about the Bush administration’s immigration policy is that it may not be as big a failure as its Iraq policy.
Congress' failure to pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform is the result of Republican infighting. Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House. They have fallen down on the job of securing our borders, enforcing existing immigration laws and implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.
Congress' first responsibility is to keep the American people safe. Yet it has been nearly five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and our nation's borders are not secure. Seven times over the last four and a half years, House Democrats offered legislation to increase federal funding for border security. Seven times, our legislation fell on party-line votes. If our proposals had passed, we could have 6,600 more Border Patrol agents, 14,000 more detention beds, and 2,700 more immigration agents.
Instead, Republicans have addressed the problem with Band-Aid solutions, and those aren't working. There were reports last week that the Bush administration cannot muster even half of the National Guard troops scheduled for deployment along our border by the end of the month.
While President Bush has failed to invest his political capital in passing bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform, his administration has all but abandoned workplace enforcement. In 1999, the year before Bush took office, there were 417 fines levied against companies in violation of the law. In 2004, that number was three. Republicans have done nothing to decrease illegal border crossings by preventing employers from hiring those here illegally, nor have they acted to allow us to import labor legally.
Under President Clinton, we did not do enough, but we at least added Border Patrol agents, held companies responsible for their workplace violations, and prosecuted immigration fraud at a greater rate. And Clinton took those actions before Sept. 11.
The bottom line is that we simply cannot get a handle on border security until we figure out our broader immigration policy. We have two signs up on our border – Help Wanted and Keep Out. As long as we have a need for some foreign labor, and lack a policy to address that need, we will have chaos at the border, illegal immigration, and human smuggling.
The first step is to agree what level of foreign labor we will bring into our country, under what conditions – and regularize the border crossing process.
In the meantime, will terrorists blend in with those entering our country illegally? Will they use the same smuggling networks to gain entry? It is certainly possible.
We have intelligence reports that al-Qaeda wants to use our southern border and existing smuggling networks to enter the United States. I want to know how it intends to get to our homeland to attack us. I want to know what we are doing diplomatically to urge other countries to improve their own immigration controls, so that Mexico, South and Central America are not gateways for terrorists. I want to know what we are doing diplomatically to prevent incursions from Mexican military and law enforcement.
But we are not in Washington hearing from the State Department and foreign policy experts, as is the purpose of our committee. We are in San Diego and Laredo this week to hear from the Border Patrol, from county sheriffs, from border security and immigration experts, and a citizen activist, focusing on matters within the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security, Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
Our colleagues look to our committee to oversee our State Department and foreign policy. What we are giving them is the first in a series of traveling political shows designed to inflame partisanship. The only upside is that these hearings will illuminate that the party that controls Washington, D.C., has failed to control our border – or to adopt a regular legal system for America to get the number of workers it needs legally.
Congressman Sherman, of Sherman Oaks, is a senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee and the ranking Democrat on its Terrorism and Nonproliferation Subcommittee. The subcommittee held a hearing yesterday at the Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station.