Chertoff Defends Border Record Before Congressional Critics

WASHINGTON, DC–Democratic members of Congress got in their last parting shots at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a Committee on Homeland Security hearing on border security on Thursday, July 17., before Congress adjourns at the end of July.
While committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), congratulated Chertoff on “significant strides towards securing America’s borders since the 9/11 terrorist attacks” he immediately began berating Chertoff for what he called a repeated failure to adopt “a comprehensive border security strategy that considers all aspects of our border.”
Thompson lambasted Chertoff for spending millions of dollars on securing the border between ports of entry while ignoring ports of entry that he said were severely under-equipped and under-staffed. “Their condition is often so poor,” Thompson said, “that they are out-dated and ill-equipped to handle the challenges of the 21st century.”
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), ranking member of the committee, attempted to turn the focus of the hearing onto the parties responsible for holding up homeland security progress. “Forty immigration bills [and] border control bills,” he said, “have been forwarded to this committee and we haven’t passed one.”
However, King’s defense was unable to blunt the Thompson’s attack, which was joined by other Democratic members of the committee.
Chertoff defended his actions and measures by the Department of Homeland Security taken to date to secure the border and focused on progress on the pedestrian and vehicle fence, border agent recruitment and the development of new technology for transportation and border security. In particular he mentioned:
• The project to build 670 miles of fencing DHS by the end of this year, Chertoff said, is on track, with more than 335 miles already completed as of July 11.
• Customs and Border Patrol has approximately 16,690 border agents on the ground and is on track to meet the goal of having 18,000 border patrol agents by the end of the year, which will be nearly twice the number available in 2001.
• Many new technologies have been deployed and expanded along the northern and southern US borders, including a number of unmanned aircraft and ground-based mobile surveillance systems, and thousands of unattended ground sensors. Biometric and unmanned technology is also planned for the seas and ports of entry, but while there has been some progress, these areas have been slower to take off.
• The Secure Border Initiative’s P-28 project to integrate the different kinds of sensors along the border has been a success, and has assisted in recognizing and capturing more than 3,500 illegals since September 2007. DHS, he says, is also planning to increase its ability to capitalize on this system by sharing national intelligence with the Homeland Intelligence Support Team.
• As a part of the Merida Initiative, the government has provided hardware, training and technical assistance to Mexican President Felipe Caldron to battle drug smugglers, human traffickers and other criminal organizations within his country.
A combination of these things, Chertoff said, has led to a decline in arrests and apprehensions in all areas andare, he said, a sure sign of DHS’s successes deterring would-be illegal immigrants and drug smugglers from trying to sneak across the border.
Under hostile Democratic questioning, Chertoff did acknowledge some problems on the border, notably the rise in violence and corruption that accompanied the increase in border agents and the fall in the number of successful illegal border crossings. Chertoff attributed the violence and corruption to the increasing desperation of criminals combined with the freshness of the thousands of rookie agents who have been stationed along the border. This, he said, is the tragic but “natural” byproduct of a successful campaign to add agents and crack down on illegal activity.
Chertoff was sure to tell Congress that so long as the United States offers the opportunity for a better life, DHS, “will continue to face a difficult battle,” and while DHS’s significant progress in enforcement this year is an important tool, it is ultimately the responsibility of Congress to provide a long-term solution.

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