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August 24, 2005
Chertoff Indicates Higher Priority For Border Enforcement

DHS chief Michael Chertoff spoke to reporters at a breakfast meeting yesterday and gave an "unusually blunt assessment" of the security issues involving the southern border of the US. He described the difficulties in keeping illegals from crossing the border at will and even keeping those caught in custody, and described plans to correct the situation. While far from a complete solution, Chertoff at least gives the impression that the Bush administration might have started to take the problem more seriously:

Acknowledging public frustration over illegal immigrants, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday that the federal government's border control efforts must be significantly strengthened.

"We have decided to stand back and take a look at how we address the problem and solve it once and for all," Mr. Chertoff said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. "The American public is rightly distressed about a situation in which they feel we do not have the proper control over our borders." ...

The strategy that Mr. Chertoff said his department was preparing goes far beyond hiring more Border Patrol agents and installing more surveillance cameras, infrared and motion detectors, and fences, initiatives that are already planned or under way.

In addition to those apprehension efforts, the secretary intends to bolster the deportation process so that an overwhelmed detention system does not cause illegal immigrants to be set free instead of being sent home. He plans to add beds for detainees, expedite deportations by making more judges and lawyers available, and try to track down more illegal immigrants who do not appear for deportation hearings.

The sheer number of those detained in border crossings overwhelms the systems used to process them for deportation. That starts with a lack of beds for illegals, making it impossible to keep them all incarcerated until their INS hearings. Those get delayed due to a lack of both judges and lawyers for representation on both sides. This cycle jams the system and causes the number of cases delayed to rise exponentially, as each day brings new detainees into the system. Add in a lack of investigators to bring back people who fail to show for their hearings as scheduled, and the picture Chertoff paints looks bleak indeed.

Essentially, the issue does not differ much from a manufacturing efficiency problem in a factory, one which Henry Ford addressed in his pioneering work on assembly lines. One must move the resources directly to the line in order to make the most efficient use of the process, and Chertoff proposes exactly that. He wants to increase beds by 10%, which won't solve the problem but will help. He also wants more judges and lawyers near the detention centers, speeding up the judicial process to keep the beds available there, which will add to the value of the additional beds. Chertoff also described some high-tech evaluation systems to pinpoint where the most effort and resources will go.

Congress already has indicated it will fund a large increase in the number of border agents in the next budget cycle, but Chertoff describes a fundamentally better approach to the process that ensures their work accomplishes something other than playing tag. Having more border guards without improving the efficiency of the adjudication system does little to keep immigrants out of the country, especially when jumping bail has almost no consequences at all.

We still need to see more of a political commitment from the Bush administration on border control, starting with better enforcement and heavier penalties in the business community that employs illegals. Chertoff's ideas sound good, but his numbers look weak; more resources should be allocated to these efforts to create much more efficiency in the processes that the DHS Secretary proposes. If Bush and the GOP do not want to give up immigration as a political edge to the DLC-style politicians in the Southwest like Bill Richardson and Janet Napolitano, then they had better start taking it seriously now. Chertoff's efforts look like a good start.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 24, 2005 5:49 AM

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