Immigration was front and center in the GOP presidential race last week. Rudy Giuliani announced his plan to get control of the borders and a verbal battle broke out between Governor Mitt Romney and Giuliani over sanctuary cities and their respective records. In an interview, Giuliani's top adviser on immigration, Robert Bonner, described Giuliani's plan and responded to the attack from Romney. Bonner is a former U.S. Attorney and Federal Court judge and was the head of DEA from 1990-93. He was the first commissioner of the newly formed U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency from 2003-2005.
Why have we failed to get control of our borders?
Bonner lays blame squarely on the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which he terms a "colossal failure." Bonner says that this is "what is breeding the deep cynicism about how we're going to deal with the borders going forward that we saw in the McCain-Kennedy bill." He says that Giuliani is "committed to not repeating the mistakes of the past." He says that "we didn't come close" to keeping the promises of the 1986 Act to build up border forces and increase staffing, noting that the level of roughly 4,000 border enforcement agents remained roughly constant throughout the Clinton administration.
Is it possible to control our border?
Bonner says, "You have to have a commitment to control the borders. We are a sovereign nation. That's what sovereign nations do." He says that it is absurd to pursue a plan to fence just 700 miles of the border. He is emphatic that we "need a fence that extends the entire 2,000 miles." He explains that this includes both a physical fence and a technology fence which could be used in more remote areas. He asserts that Giuliani is "the only candidate who says credibly that we'll control the border."
What about the illegal immigrants already here?
Bonner says bluntly that we should focus "on first things first." He says: "If the boat is leaking, you need to plug the leaks. If you don't, why bother with the rest of it?" He does offer that "we are not going to give special benefits to people who have broken the rules."
Why is Giuliani credible on the issue?
Bonner says Giuliani "is the only candidate who has articulated a plan and the only one with leadership skills to get it done." He points, not surprisingly, to Giuliani's CompStat program for reducing crime in New York City and says Giuliani would take that plan "for holding people accountable for crime and apply it to the border, which is an enforcement issue." He says Giuliani sees enforcement of the borders as "100%, not 70% and not 80%" attainable.
Other than border enforcement what else can be done to turn off the flow of illegal immigration?
Bonner says that Giuliani places great weight on a "biometric fraud proof ID card" for foreign workers. He terms the present system, which allows employers to accept without question any two of 29 types of identification, rife with "massive fraud." Under IRCA, Bonner says, employers were allowed to accept whatever documents were presented "if the ink was not coming off," make copies for their files and tell the INS, if ever audited, that they had looked at the appropriate documentation. The result, says Bonner, was an industry where "you can get two documents [needed for employer verification] for 50 bucks." Under the system Giuliani is recommending, employers would have a single biometric card and would be required to "query a database." The aim, says Bonner, is to "make it difficult for employers to look the other way." In short, he says that by changing the employer verification system and greatly increasing penalties you will "turn off the magnet" that attracts illegal immigrants.
How long should it take to get control of our borders?
Bonner says with the right leadership and resources it should take two years. He says that with the appropriate staffing and technology we should be able to detect "where and when our border is penetrating and in which direction the intruders are heading." He suggests that if technology replaces border agents sitting in fixed spots along the border ("sitting on their X's"), border agents can then be assigned to actually apprehend those entering illegally. He says eventually you will reach the "tipping point" where detection and apprehension are successful enough to deter others from attempting to enter illegally.
What is the danger if we don't control our borders?
Bonner says that aside from the issue of illegal immigration the loss of border security is a national security danger. He says "in a post-9-11 world and in an era of Islamic terrorists it is essential" to control who is entering the country. He adds that "no one knows it better" that Giuliani, who has made it his second commitment. He insists that Giuliani has the "most credibility on counterterrorism," which includes border control, and he reiterates that Al Qaeda contemplated a plot for "infiltration" of America through the Mexican border.
Is the much maligned Homeland Security Department the right organization to fight illegal immigration?
Bonner acknowledges that aspects of Homeland Security such as FEMA have had difficulties but stresses that "one of the best ideas" was combining INS, including Border Control, and Customs into one entity. He says that the "last thing you'd want to do is fragment" responsibility for border security again.
What about the recent duel between Giuliani and Romney over sanctuary cities? Did Romney have a point?
Bonner begins by saying that immigration is "quintessentially a federal responsibility." He says that there is "a role for state and local enforcement," which should assist the federal government, but "it is not their role to enforce federal laws." He continues: "Governor Romney had three cities that declared themselves sanctuary cities," which were "welcoming [to illegal immigrants] and evidently expressed a commitment to defend [illegals] against federal authorities." He contends "Governor Romney has to explain himself." Bonner contends that this was different from New York, "which because of the failure of the federal government at the time had large numbers of illegals residing there." He contends that it was not realistic to expect mayors of "big cities or any size city" to enforce immigration laws without "resources or authority under federal law." He bluntly accuses Romney of making "unfounded and hypocritical" claims.
If Bonner is any guide, the Giuliani camp clearly will seek to characterize immigration as a law enforcement and national security issue. If they can do so and convince voters that Giuliani's track record in fighting crime makes him the most credible person to gain control of the borders, it will certainly boost his candidacy. Meanwhile, Romney and Giuliani's other opponents will continue to cast doubt on Giuliani's past record and his commitment to fighting illegal immigration.
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