2005 March 17 Thursday
US Senate Hearing On Inadequate Border Security

C-SPAN broadcast a hearing from yesterday of the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security (and here are transcripts of most of the testimony - though apparently not the revelations from the Q and A sections) . Thomas Walters of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says about a million illegals are caught per year. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said that perhaps a half million a year are not caught. Walters says he doesn't know which estimate for illegal crossings is realistic (and some estimates run much higher). California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D CA) tossed out some numbers on how many "Other Than Mexicans" (or OTMs) are caught and the number is going up. Many of them are still caught and released. I went digging for some precise numbers. OTM border crossings on the US-Mexico border are rising rapidly.

Most of the illegals are poor Mexican laborers looking for work. But officials are alarmed that a growing number hail from Central and South America, Asia, even Mideast countries such as Syria and Iran. In 2003, the Border Patrol arrested 39,215 so-called "OTMs," or other-than-Mexicans, along the Southwest border. In 2004, the number jumped to 65,814.

One theme of the hearing was that the huge influx of illegal aliens across the border makes it easy for terrorists to get into the United States. My guess is that this route hasn't been used more heavily to launch an attack because the overthrow of the Taliban combined with much more vigorous investigation of terrorist groups by many countries around the globe have severely disrupted Al Qaeda and like minded groups. But the US should have more in depth defenses against terrorist penetration.

The people smugglers are becoming more sophisticated.

Moody's agents are up against increasingly sophisticated smugglers. Even as the Border Patrol has gotten new high-tech equipment, so have the people they're trying to catch. Smugglers use two-way radios, cell phones, global positioning systems and other high-tech equipment to watch agents' movements and alert each other when the coast is clear.

"Ten years ago, they probably could not have bought a pair of infrared night-vision goggles on the open market, but now they can," says Robert Boatright, assistant chief of the Border Patrol in El Paso. "We see them changing tactics as we change tactics."

The rate of apprehensions continued to rise in late 2004.

Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 23, there were 51,759 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to preliminary federal estimates. This is a 14 percent increase over the 45,355 apprehensions during the same period a year ago.

Year-to-date apprehensions for fiscal year 2005, which began Oct. 1, are up 15 percent over the previous year.

One big advance in border enforcement was revealed by a question from Feinstein: Fraudulent and stolen passports are now always taken from the person who has it. This tough response to the use of fake documents is an advance over previous practice. How recent an advance? Surely it has been in practice since 9/11? Nope. Feinstein said (and Walters agreed) that the obvious step of border control agents taking away fake and stolen documents was finally implemented as a required course of action starting January 1, 2005. This means that, yes, previous practice was that some of those fake and stolen passports were being returned by US government agents to the people who were illegally using these documents to try to enter the United States or who were entering surreptitiously but carrying fake documents. Feinstein is introducing legislation to make use of fake and stolen documents into an aggravated felony.

Elaine Dezenski, a deputy secretary at DHS, told the hearing that people using fraudulent documents are even getting looked at more closely with checking in additional databases. Thomas Walters claims these people with false documents are not allowed to enter the country. But then are all of the OTMs that are captured and released into the United States not carrying fake documents? It was not clear from the hearings that Walters was speaking from his knowledge or just saying what sounded reasonable.

Doris Meissner (former Clinton Administration INS commissioner and now at the Migration Policy Institute) said 28 million visas were granted in 2003. She wants plenty of immigration. Sounds like she is for illegal immigration amnesty but didn't want to come out and say it. Feinstein to Meissner: "And Doris, I wish I agreed with you that the border can't be enforced. I think it can". Go Dianne! For a Democratic Senator from California Feinstein took surprisingly hard line in favor of tough border enforcement and interior enforcement to catch illegals. Meissner denied she is defeatist about border enforcement. Meissner wants accountability of employers on whether they are employing illegal people and to give employers a way to verify legality. This is very reasonable.

In her testimony (my excerpt of which comes from the Migration Policy Institute web site) Meissner discussed progress in rolling out the US-VISIT system to track and collect more information on visitors. While biometric data is now being collected on some visitors the US-VISIT system has yet to start tracking departures in order to detect who is overstaying their visas. (PDF format)

In addition, technology at ports of entry has improved substantially. With the design and implementation of US-VISIT, vast amounts of detailed information about visitors and other classes of non-immigrants, including biometrics, are being gathered and stored. Inspectors and immigration officials have access to greater stores of information than ever before, and controls have improved significantly as a result.

However, the integration of federal data bases still needs improvement; training and staffing at ports continue to be insufficient; and entry/exit controls will not be fully in place until December 2005. Analyses and strategies need to be developed that effectively use all the new tracking information to strengthen immigration enforcement and increase law enforcement and intelligence officials’ understanding of possible national security threats. In the face of this unfinished agenda, it would be highly premature to change the length of admission of visitors without first fully implementing measures that have shown their anti-terrorism effectiveness and then learning whether the length of admission bears any relationship to national security vulnerabilities.

Meissner expects that once exit information collection begins the data collected may be of some use in detecting terrorist movement patterns as distinct from other categories of visitors.

Progress toward the implementation of biometric passports came up repeatedly in the Senate subcommittee hearing. The implementation has already been delayed from October 2004 to October 2005. But roll-out probably won't happen until 2006 both because various countries are not developing their own biometric passport systems fast enough and also because US government development of systems for their use is lagging.

Janice Kephart, who served as September 11 Commission Staff Counsel and who is now at the Investigative Project on Terrorism (founded by Steven Emerson), told the subcommittee "Border security is national security." This is slowly sinking through in Washington DC. But Bush Administration budgeting priorities (e.g. the lack of funds to hold all captured "OTMs" for deportation) show that the Bushies just don't get it.

Congress wants to do more to control borders but the Bush Administration is resisting.

Although the government has added about 1,300 agents to the force since 2001, there still aren't nearly enough to patrol the 6,900 miles of border with Mexico and Canada.

Recognizing that need, Congress late last year authorized a near doubling of the size of the agency by adding 2,000 agents a year for the next five years. But this month, the Bush administration's budget requested $37 million to pay for one-tenth as many agents - 210 - in 2006.

Kephart advocates the creation of a separate department of border security and immigration. Kephart considers the set of policies and laws and the politics behind them to be extremely complex and that this complexity requires a singular focus. She says immigration has 40,000 employees alone and that exceeds the size of 5 existing departments in the government.

Kephart listed a number of deficiencies in border control and visa policies.

• Lack of clear guidance on admission rules and tourist length of stay. Immigration inspectors do not have any discretion in determining a tourist’s length of stay. Tourists on visas receive an automatic six-month length of stay and are not required to produce a return ticket. Therefore, when the immigration inspector asks the tourist how long he intends to stay, and the answer is, (as was the case with a few of the 9/11 hijackers), “a few weeks,” the inspector is required by law to give that visitor a six month length of stay. Ironically, visitors from visa waiver countries, which are considered lower risk than visa country visitors, are only permitted a three-month stay by law. In contrast, immigration inspectors have full discretion when granting a business length of stay, and views about the “standard” length of stay for business visitors differs amongst inspectors; there are no standard rules for these types of visitors.

• Inadequate primary inspection training and no secondary inspection training. Prior to 9/11, immigration inspectors only received about a half-day training in primary inspections (a 45 second to 1 minute interview) and none in secondary inspections. The hijackers were referred for a total of six secondary inspections, four immigration secondaries and two customs secondaries. One result of the lack of standardized training for these inspectors was that a “red flag” to one primary inspector meant nothing to others- for example, sufficiency of funds. Therefore, the very reason one of the hijackers (Saeed Al-Ghamdi) was referred to secondary inspection was considered of little interest to other primary inspectors with similar information presented to them by hijackers. That also meant that when Al-Ghamdi was interviewed in secondary inspection, the inspector who conducted his interview did not consider sufficiency of funds valid criteria for questioning, and admitted him.

Feinstein advocated the implementation of systems that would make it easy for employers to determine whether a job applicant has a right to work in the United States. This is in line with what Mark Krikorian calls "virtual checkpoints" for interior immigration law enforcement. That has to be a key element of a successful plan to stop and reverse the influx of illegals.

Another essential element is a barrier wall along the border with Mexico. A border barrier which would be a layer of walls and fences would cost between $2 billion and $8 billion and would pay for itself in avoided medical costs for illegals alone. A barrier combined with interior enforcement are needed to deal with an illegal alien problem that might be as high as 20 million illegals in the United States.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 March 17 02:59 AM  Immigration Terrorism

Daveg said at March 17, 2005 12:54 PM:

If you are at all concerned about this issue you should, at a minimum, get on www.numbersusa.com and get an account (it is free).

The service IDs your reps, tracks issues of interest, and lets you send faxes from the computer (it even provides suggested letters). It is absolutely the easiest thing in the world.

Is anyone else who reads this blog using this service?

noone said at March 17, 2005 1:10 PM:

"Feinstein to Meissner: "And Doris, I wish I agreed with you that the border can't be enforced. I think it can"."

She's right,not only did we secure the border immediatly post-9/11,we did it so thoroghly that Vincente Fox had a public temper tantrum over it.

But the phrasing,"I wish I agreed with you that the border can't be enforced." ,why would she wish that?

John S Bolton said at March 17, 2005 2:34 PM:

That would allow her to take a more open borders position. Pacifism and treason are not good for elected officials, though.

Rick Darby said at March 17, 2005 2:48 PM:

All the high-tech gadgetry in the world won't make any serious dent in illegal immigration as long as the president, Congress and federal government agencies don't really believe that The Invasion is a problem, and fear being politically incorrect more than they fear the possibility of terrorist attacks at worst and social decay at best.

Why shouldn't anyone enter the country illegally? What have they got to lose? At worst, they'll be detained for a few hours and sent back to try again until they succeed. All of us have to shout in the ear of officialdom that illegal immigrants are lawbreakers. This isn't a computer game, where the object is to improve your score over time ("detentions of undocumented migrants increased 7.9 percent this year compared to last year"); it's a deadly earnest struggle against criminal, and possibly terrorist, activity. Marginal increases in the numbers of border patrol agents or the budget for illegal-immigration control are meaningless political gestures unless the will is there to back them up with stringent penalties for those who are caught. And yes, build a damned wall if that's what it takes!

Let's stop kidding ourselves. Border security is nonexistent, and no amount of bureaucratic posturing is going to change that.

John S Bolton said at March 17, 2005 6:10 PM:

Well, it has already happened that illegals have taken down one hundred storey building after another, terrorized the capital region with sniper attacks, and possibly germ warfare so that even the slowest responding, conservative temperaments can't help but react. Politicians like Bush quiver in fear of being called racist by liberals who have no rational argument to offer as to why the net taxpayer should support antimerit immigrants by the millions and the tens of millions. We owe loyalty to civilization and to the net taxpayer as against the foreigner and the terrorist; the moderate right in pursuit of a worthless reputation for antiracism, has got to process this information, and soon.

Vadim Gorshenin said at March 18, 2005 12:13 AM:

Japan to talk about end of China loans - media
Updated: 2005-02-05 00:53

Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said on Thursday Japan would end development loans to China but would hold talks with Beijing to ensure the cessation of the aid was not disruptive, Kyodo news agency said.

Japan has already reduced low interest loans to booming China for three straight years, adding tension to a relationship long soured by Japan's brutal occupation of parts of China from 1931 to 1945.

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