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U.S. Officials Outline Efforts to Curb Illegal Immigration

Homeland Security's Chertoff urges three-tiered approach to address problem

Posted: October 19, 2005


Elaine Chao

Michael Chertoff
Washington -- Illegal immigration is a severe and growing problem, and the United States is taking aggressive and innovative steps to address it, says U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

In October 18 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chertoff told lawmakers that ending illegal immigration requires tough law enforcement, as well as action to reduce the demand that draws illegal migrants into the country.

U.S. officials believe a three-tier comprehensive approach to curbing illegal immigration is necessary, Chertoff added. This approach involves establishing better control of the border, a more robust interior enforcement program and a Temporary Worker Program (TWP) that would match willing employers with willing workers.

Chertoff said that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. annual spending on border security and immigration enforcement has increased dramatically. With these funds, he said, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has added 1,649 patrol agents along U.S. borders and 4,533 officers at ports of entry since 2001.

The secretary explained that the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill signed by President Bush October 18 will allocate $940 million in new resources for homeland security law enforcement agencies to strengthen further border security and immigration enforcement. These new resources will support additional personnel, technology and infrastructure -- and should deliver benefits in the near future, Chertoff said. (See White House fact sheet on appropriations bill.)

"I am convinced that we can soon make dramatic improvements in the use of technology, infrastructure, and our rapidly growing enforcement team," he said.

Chertoff said he anticipates a fairly rapid improvement in the removal of illegal immigrants from the United States. Currently, he said, apprehensions of illegal immigrants exceed removals.

The secretary explained that whereas the 900,000 illegal Mexican immigrants caught entering the United States each year immediately are returned to Mexico, only 30,000 of 160,000 non-Mexican nationals apprehended were removed from the United States. This so-called "catch and release" practice, he said, encourages illegal immigration, and efforts are under way to end it, he said.

"We must end 'catch and release' and implement 'catch and return,'" he said. "In fact, we are already taking steps to implement 'catch and return' as I speak."

Chertoff said that homeland security is expanding removals by making better use of detention and removal assets. He testified that he has set a goal for complete removal of the "catch and release" practice, without exceptions. The secretary said he expects that significant progress can be made toward this goal during the remainder of 2005.

As efforts to streamline removal of people caught crossing U.S. borders illegally move forward, Chertoff said, immigration enforcement within the United States' interior -- including worksite enforcement -- also must improve. He indicated that more robust efforts at interior enforcement are under way, and better cooperation with federal, state and local partners should improve immigration enforcement overall.

OFFICIALS CALL FOR “WELL-DESIGNED” TEMPORARY WORKER PROGRAM

With an increase in the effectiveness of border security and immigration enforcement, Chertoff said, a TWP also will be necessary to augment these efforts.

"The effectiveness of our border security and interior enforcement initiatives is closely tied to creating a workable TWP," he said. "A well-designed TWP will provide legal channels for U.S. employers and foreign-born workers to meet the needs of a vibrant and successful U.S. economy without disadvantaging American workers."

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, agreed with Chertoff's assessment.

"An improved temporary worker program will enhance border security and interior enforcement by providing a workable and enforceable process for hiring foreign temporary workers," she said.

Chao noted that a reformed worker program should allow those workers who are in the United States illegally to come forward, apply for a legal temporary work status and participate in the legal economy. At the same time, she stressed that those workers who do come forward should not receive amnesty for their violations of law, but rather pay a fine or penalty to participate in the TWP.

"President Bush strongly opposes amnesty, because it unfairly rewards lawbreaking and because amnesty encourages further illegal immigration," she said.

Chao observed that felons and those workers in removal proceedings would not be eligible to participate in the TWP under Bush's proposed plan.

On the subject of matching willing workers with U.S. employers, Chao said that while the private marketplace -- not the government -- is best suited for this role, the government will retain controls to prevent abuses such as excessive fees.

The labor secretary added that once workers are enrolled in a TWP, the Department of Labor would work to protect their labor rights.

"The Department of Labor takes very seriously its responsibility to ensure that our work force, including foreign workers admitted under temporary worker programs, is fully protected by our nation's labor laws," she said.

In conclusion, Chao told legislators that the Bush administration looks forward to working with the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in the coming months to craft a TWP that enhances U.S. security and prosperity.

"Reforming our temporary worker program is a difficult and complicated undertaking," she said. "Working together, I am confident that reforms will be enacted to protect homeland security, restore the rule of law, serve the economic needs of our nation, and honor our history of openness to legal immigration."

The testimonies of Chertoff and Chao are available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Web site.

Scott Miller
Washington File Staff Writer


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