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
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
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
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,"
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
are available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s
Washington File Staff Writer