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Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 6:09 pm    Post subject: Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff Reply with quote

Statement by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee

Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.
October 18, 2005
(Remarks as Prepared)

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Leahy, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the vital issues of border security, interior enforcement and immigration reform as a whole.

Today, President Bush is signing the DHS Appropriations Bill into law. Thanks to this Congress, DHS now has additional funds to spend on critical border security and enforcement initiatives.

As you know, over the last few months this Administration has been consulting with members of Congress on comprehensive immigration reform. We have been grateful for your input, and I appreciate your support as we move forward with this agenda.

Since his first inauguration, President Bush has placed ever-increasing importance on border security and has devoted significant resources to this challenge. The President believes – and I agree – that illegal immigration threatens our communities and our national security.

The ability of undocumented individuals to enter our country represents an obvious homeland security threat. Flagrant violation of our borders undercuts the rule of law, undermines our security, and imposes particular economic strains on our border communities. When we do not control our borders, we also risk entry into the U.S. of terrorists or others wishing to do us harm.

We also must consider the migrants who rely on “coyotes”- human traffickers and smugglers – and are often robbed, abused, and left for dead on their illegal trek across our borders. We must do more to prevent these situations from continuing.

Ending illegal immigration means both tough enforcement and action to reduce the very demand that draws illegal migrants into the country. Therefore, our strategy of reforming our immigration system is a three-pillar, comprehensive approach that focuses on controlling the border, building a robust interior enforcement program, and establishing a Temporary Worker Program.

While Secretary Chao will discuss this in more detail, the Temporary Worker Program will address two huge strains on our current immigration system – high U.S. employer demand for workers and active participation of an estimated 8 million undocumented workers in the U.S. economy.

The effectiveness of our border security and interior enforcement is closely tied to establishing a workable and enforceable Temporary Worker Program. A well-designed Temporary Worker Program will provide legal channels for U.S. employers and foreign born workers to match needs in the best interest of the U.S. economy without disadvantaging American workers.

It is also critical that we couple this program with a tough enforcement strategy, and we are already making significant progress on the enforcement measures that the President’s Temporary Worker Program will require.

Indeed, since President Bush took office, the United States government has deported several million, including approximately 300,000 criminal aliens. Since 9/11, yearly spending has increased by $2.7 billion (58 percent).

Yearly spending on immigration enforcement has also increased dramatically, and enforcement expenditures have gone up by $1 billion (35 percent).

Every day, our departmental agencies take significant steps to secure our borders. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has over 11,000 Border Patrol agents along the 6,000 miles of northern and southern border.

An additional 18,000 CBP officers are posted at our Ports of Entry (POEs), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has over 8,000 agents and officers working to apprehend criminals, absconders, and other individuals illegally in the United States.

Additionally, the U.S. Coast Guard plays a critical role in securing our land and sea borders.

In FY 2005 alone, Border Patrol agents made over 1 million apprehensions, and CBP Field Operations officers stopped more than 600,000 aliens attempting to enter at our POEs. In the same period, Immigration and Customs Enforcement apprehended approximately 140,000 illegal aliens in interior enforcement operations and 15,000 under its fugitive operations program.

ICE also executed removal orders for over 160,000 aliens who have been placed in proceedings, of those, 77,000 had criminal records. These are solid numbers demonstrating a steadfast commitment to law enforcement.

Even as our Department was coordinating the response to Hurricane Katrina, we have not wavered in our commitment to seeking fresh, new solutions to the tightening of our border security efforts.

Last month, I authorized eliminating the environmental challenges that had blocked completion of the 14-mile Border Infrastructure System near San Diego – an issue that languished for almost a decade. We listened to Congress and moved forward in an effort to strengthen border protection in the San Diego area.

We recently obtained a Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle to enhance our ability to secure the southwest border, and we’ve partnered with the Department of Defense to take advantage of training opportunities.

With funds appropriated by Congress earlier this year, we have begun to hire – and have already begun graduating – 1,500 new Border Patrol agents for deployment along the entire border.

Currently, there are 400 border patrol agents training at the academy in Artesia, New Mexico, who I am looking forward to addressing this Thursday.

We are grateful to Congress for providing this additional funding, and we will continue to focus on additional growth in agent staffing for CBP and ICE.

Despite these bold efforts, we recognize that the current situation is in desperate need of repair. Our most pressing enforcement responsibility is on the southwest border – the pathway for two-thirds of the illegal aliens in our country today.

On this front, I’d like to acknowledge the cooperation we have gotten from Mexican officials in combating organized smuggling, including through information exchange and joint targeting. We will continue work together to enhance safety along the border.

While visiting the southwest border, I have seen first-hand the efforts of our border enforcement staff. Although they have made great efforts, much work still remains.

In the weeks ahead, I will be speaking much more about a systematic program of technology acquisition, infrastructure improvements, and workforce efficiencies that will drive our work at the border.

While reason may indicate that more border patrol agents will mean better border control, apprehension of illegal entrants is just the first step. We also must enhance our detention capability and create a more efficient removal system. Regrettably today, apprehensions of illegal immigrants exceed removals.

Nearly 900,000 Mexicans who are caught entering the United States illegally are returned immediately to Mexico. But others parts of the system have nearly collapsed under the weight of numbers. The problem is especially severe for non-Mexicans apprehended at the southwest border.

Today, a non-Mexican illegal immigrant caught trying to enter the United States across the southwest border has an 80% chance of being released immediately because we lack the holding facilities. Therefore, it is critical that we solve the problem of detention in order to carry out an effective enforcement strategy.

Through a comprehensive approach, we are moving to end this “catch and release” style of border enforcement by reengineering our detention and removal process.

Past experience has indicated that a concentrated effort at removal can actually deter illegal entries by non-Mexicans on the southwest border. Our plan is to expand removals by better utilizing our detention and removal assets to increase turnover.

Our goal at DHS is to completely eliminate the “catch and release” enforcement problem, and return every single illegal entrant – no exceptions. It should be possible to achieve significant and measurable progress to this end in less than a year.

Indeed, working with the State Department in many areas, we have already begun implementing many significant changes in transitioning from “catch and release” to “catch and return.”

Going forward, we will apply the same comprehensive approach we have taken to removal more broadly to other aspects of border and interior enforcement. In that sense, this is simply a down payment on our overall border enforcement initiative which we are designing as a complement to the President’s Temporary Worker Program.

I am committed to working closely with the Administration and the members of this Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. I look forward to working with our partners at all levels to ensure that this agenda for DHS can be implemented.

Once again, I thank this Committee for your constant support and valuable input, and I look forward to working with you as we move forward with these critical initiatives.

Now I would be pleased to take your questions.
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