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Manhattan Institute

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Safety's Not No. 1


Safety's Not No. 1

December 15, 2004
Legal ReformOther
Urban PolicyOther

NOW that the Bernard Kerik nomination has crashed and burned, President Bush should ask the next candidate for Department of Homeland Security chief the most important question for the job: Will you enforce the law against border trespassers?

Nothing compromises our domestic defense against Islamic terrorism more than our failure to control who enters the country. The alien-smuggling trade is the “sea in which terrorists swim,” explains David Cohen, the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and an ex-CIA expert on al Qaeda.

Yet fear of offending the race and rights lobbies has trumped national security at DHS. This spring, for example, Asa Hutchinson — the department’s undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security and now a contender for the top job — shut down a successful border-patrol initiative to catch illegal aliens.

A specially trained team had apprehended about 450 border trespassers in several southern California cities. The Los Angeles Times, La Raza and every other advocacy group for illegal aliens protested that the arrests were racially motivated and that they were “scaring” illegal aliens.

The White House promptly called the team off, and Hutchinson appeased the race hustlers by denouncing the initiative as “racial profiling.” He followed up with a memo to every U.S. immigration, border patrol and customs agent declaring that “preventing racial profiling is a priority mission of this department.”

Shouldn’t guarding public safety be the Department of Homeland Security’s sole “priority mission” ?

A glance at a tiny section of the northern border, separating Vermont and a small part of New York from Canada, makes clear how lackluster the government’s response to illegal entry remains.

Every week, agents in the border patrol’s Swanton sector catch Middle Easterners and North Africans sneaking into Vermont. And every week, they immediately release those trespassers with a polite request to return for a deportation hearing. Why? The Department of Homeland Security failed to budget enough funding for sufficient detention space for lawbreakers.

In May alone, Swanton agents released illegal aliens from Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco, Uganda and India without bond. Since all these aliens chose to evade the visa process, none has had a background check by a consular official that might have uncovered terrorist connections. All are now at large in the country.

The failure to interdict northern trespassers is particularly worrisome, since Canada is a proven springboard for terrorists. Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian caught at the Canadian border with 100 pounds of explosives destined for the Los Angeles airport in December 1999, ran an al Qaeda cell in Montreal, despite having previously been ordered deported by the Canadian government. Two of the seven most wanted al Qaeda members are naturalized Canadians.

This “catch and release” policy is in force all across the country for the same reason: no detention space. On June 8, agents in the Las Cruces, N.M., station apprehended three illegal Pakistanis and promptly let them go. The same day, guards at Texas’ Uvalde station released a Bosnian wanted on an Interpol warrant for aggravated rape.

The number of people caught at the southern border from “countries of interest” — terror dens — is on the rise: This year’s list includes people from Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and — in greatest numbers — Pakistan. Law-enforcement authorities told The Washington Times that al Qaeda is well aware of the border patrol’s detention-space crisis and resulting “catch-and-release” policy, which it hopes to exploit to loose its agents into the country.

If the government were serious about ending illegal entry and its threat to national security, it would fund adequate detention space. Instead, the Bush administration plans to add only 117 new detention beds in 2005 (while probably losing another 1,400 beds for failure to reimburse county and local jails for the space it rents from them).

Putting national security ahead of political correctness would also mean ending the special status granted Mexican illegals. None of the recent measures to strengthen border oversight — inadequate in themselves — applies to Mexicans.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s government is providing cover for its illegal emigrants by furnishing them with ID — “matricula consular” cards — meant to let them open U.S. bank accounts or get U.S. driver’s licenses. The FBI has denounced the matricula consular card as a security nightmare, since its background check is so superficial and it is so easily forged — yet federal authorities are allowing its use to spread across the country.

These authorities seem to believe that they can give a pass to the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who cross illegally every year and still strengthen the border against terrorists. But since the government forswears consideration of national origin, race, religion or ethnicity in its law-enforcement activities, strict immigration policing across the board becomes even more crucial for catching terrorists.

Without real enforcement, terrorists will make use of the infrastructure of illegality — such as corrupt Mexican officials. In 2003, authorities busted Mexico’s consul in Lebanon for selling fake visas for up to $4,500. Her ring had smuggled about 300 Lebanese into the U.S. from Tijuana from 1999 to November 2002.

To be against alien lawbreakers is not to be against immigrants. Border laws protect the country for those immigrants who respect America’s laws. Our inability to control who comes into the country is our biggest security threat, and we must empower every branch of law enforcement to apprehend the lawbreakers.

Washington should allocate the resources to detain and deport illegals, and should start enforcing long-standing laws against employing alien lawbreakers. A deafening roar of “racism” will result — but with the country at war, pandering to the race advocates must give way to protecting American lives.