For decades, discussions about the failures of the immigration system focused almost exclusively on securing our southwest border but ignored not only the legal entry system, but the solution to the failures of both the legal and illegal means by which aliens – including terrorists and transnational criminals – enter the United States: the enforcement of our immigration laws from within the interior of the U.S.
Let’s be blunt. There is no way to prevent all illegal entries of aliens. Our nation’s southwest border is 1,900 miles long, and the border that separates the U.S. from Canada is more than 5,000 miles long. Our coastline runs approximately 95,000 miles.
The vetting process conducted by consular officials who issue visas will always suffer failures. The Visa Waiver Program further erodes the ability to vet aliens who enter the U.S.
Finally, politicians and journalists now are acknowledging that failures of the immigration system are not limited to the millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. but that there is a threat posed by aliens who were admitted through the legal process, but not adequately vetted. In fact, the 9/11 Commission noted that the great majority of terrorists entered the U.S. through international airports.
In the wake of terror attacks, the term “vetting” has taken on the sort of prominence that had been reserved for the discussions about building a fence on the border.
On December 17, 2015, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted a hearing on the topic, “Terrorist Travel: Vetting for National Security Concerns,” giving insight into just how dysfunctional the visa process is. Many of the questions focused on how aliens, whose visas had been canceled because they were discovered to pose a threat to national security, are still at large inside the U.S.
The fact that the title of the hearing included the term “Terrorist Travel” is significant. The staff of the 9/11 Commission produced a report, “9/11 and Terrorist Travel – Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.” This report focused on failures of the visa process and the immigration system.
I have talked conceptually about how our immigration enforcement program stands on three legs. I call it the “Immigration Law Enforcement Tripod.” Under this concept, the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) inspectors enforce our immigration laws at ports of entry by applying those laws to determine whether to admit aliens into the U.S.
The Border Patrol is charged with enforcing our immigration laws between ports of entry by interdicting aliens who attempt to evade the inspections process by running our borders.
The personnel of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) are charged with backing up the Border Patrol and CBP Inspectors by conducting investigations into immigration law violations from within the U.S. and arresting such law violators. This constitutes the third and perhaps the most important of all legs of the enforcement tripod, yet for decades it has been all but ignored.
Unbelievably, on December 2, 2015, The Washington Times reported, “ICE gives away $113 million, says not enough illegal immigrants to deport,” and CAPS addressed it last week in a blog here.
In November 2001, just weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11, I testified before the House Immigration Reform Caucus in which I referenced my concept of the Immigration Enforcement Tripod. My prepared testimony for that hearing was subsequently entered into the Congressional Record.
I have also referenced this concept at other hearings including the hearing conducted on February 27, 2003, by the House Subcommittee in Immigration, Border Security and Claims on the topic, “New York City’s ‘Sanctuary’ Policy and the Effect of Such Policies on Public Safety, Law Enforcement, and Immigration.”
In my May 31, 2010, interview by Casey Wian of CNN for a news report titled, “Tracking Down Visa Violators,” I compared the interior enforcement mission to the job of the outfielders at a baseball game who are responsible for snagging balls that get past the infield. Without outfielders playing their position in a game, any batter who can hit the ball past the infielders would be all but guaranteed an in-the-park home run.
The Border Patrol has more than 20,000 agents. There are a similar number of inspectors employed by CBP at ports of entry, and the TSA has 45,000 employees.
ICE only has about 7,000 agents, and more than half of them are engaged in enforcing customs laws that have no relevance to the enforcement of our immigration laws.
ICE must have an adequate number of agents, support personnel and resources to effectively enforce our immigration laws. There must be a particular emphasis on immigration fraud to imbue our immigration system with true integrity, and to deter violations of our immigration laws. This would shrink the huge haystack in which some truly deadly needles are hiding, thereby augmenting national security.
While the FBI contributes the greatest number of agents to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), ICE agents constitute the second greatest number of agents assigned to that task force and are key players in other task forces such as the Organized Crime, Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Sanctuary cities fly in the face of the interior enforcement mission of our immigration laws and undermine these critical law enforcement efforts to protect our nation and our citizens.
A person who is unable to defend his/her position is often described as “not having a leg to stand on.” Where national security is concerned, our immigration enforcement program must stand on three strong legs of the “Immigration Enforcement Tripod” to defend America and Americans.