The Hole in The Border Patrol
As President Bush attended the swearing in of new Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff Thursday, the president noted that
"Osama bin Laden has urged the terrorist Zarqawi to form
a group to conduct attacks outside Iraq, including here in the
United States. We're on a constant hunt for bin Laden."
Well, not quite.
I am sorry to report that, even as Dubya was talking tough about
being ready for al Qaeda-inspired terrorists laying plans to slip
across the border, his own budget proposal reduces the number
of Border Patrol agents the government will hire. The Bush budget
includes enough to hire 210 new Border Patrol agents in 2006,
which is an increase -- but a far cry from the 2,000 agents he
was mandated to hire each year for five years, starting in 2006,
as per a bill Congress passed and Bush signed.
The goal of the bill was to double the size of the Border Patrol,
but if Bush gets his way, there will be but teensy-weensy increases.
"I'm not sure that (Bush) understands the connection between
border security and homeland security," noted T.J. Bonner,
president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents
Border Patrol agents.
"I'm at a loss as to why they're doing this. I suspect that
it has something to do with the fact that they're not serious
about controlling illegal immigration -- never have been,"
"They seem to have this view that illegal immigration is
healthy for the U.S. economy because we have an endless supply
of cheap, exploitable labor coming across the border."
That's certainly the way I see the administration's failure to
staff these new positions. Bush always has had a soft spot for
cheap, illegal labor -- hence his continued calls for amnesty
programs that would encourage more illegal immigration. And it's
hard to see his decision to pull back on the promised increase
in the ranks of the Border Patrol as anything but a willful decision
to look the other way -- an outrageous and dangerous choice when
you consider that Bush knows bin Laden would like to sneak terrorists
over the border.
Republican Rep. Christopher Cox of Newport Beach, Calif., the
chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told me
I'm wrong. That is "an easy thing for talk-radio" folks
to say, Cox noted on the phone, but Bush is looking at the bottom
line and at what works. The cost of expanding training facilities
is much higher than anticipated, and the administration thinks
it can be more effective by spending on new technologies that
can enhance border surveillance.
To that first point, Carlos Espinosa, a spokesman for Rep. Tom
Tancredo, R-Colo., had a quick response. "There's probably
no one" in the House of Representatives "who's going
to say we shouldn't fund extra facilities to protect the country
from another (terrorist) attack." The cost to the American
economy if there is a terrorist attack would be many times greater
than the cost of training thousands of new agents.
And as Bonner points out, the new technology is good, but it
can't help much if there is no one around to detain those little
dots on the screens.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Kristi Clemens
just returned from a trip to El Paso, where she saw the new technology
-- part of America's Shield Initiative -- at work. The new scanning
technology spotted 14 people near the border, agents were deployed,
and 14 uninvited guests were apprehended. With the new officers
and new equipment -- and a bigger budget -- Border Patrol agents
will be able to monitor "constant intelligence" and
deploy agents where they are needed, she said.
Clemens noted that the Border Patrol detained 1.1 million illegal
immigrants last year. That's good, but there is no way to know
for sure how many illegal crossers made it into this country.
And while most were looking for jobs -- not targets -- they found
those jobs at a high cost to state and local governments, which
have been forced to absorb costs for emergency medical care and
incarceration because the federal government doesn't pay for its
And if a terrorist does slip through a porous border, Americans
could pay with their very lives.
Cox compared the overall border situation today with a fence
along the U.S./Mexico border in San Diego -- he called it "a
$14 million fence with a 3-mile hole." The House recently
voted to fill the hole in the fence. Now, it should make sure
that Washington fills the hole in the Border Patrol.
2005 Creators Syndicate
Today's Article to a Friend