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The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE MICHAEL CHERTOFF
Mr. Chairman, Senator Specter, Members of the Committee:
Thank you for inviting me to testify today about immigration reform. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is committed to the President's vision of immigration reform based on five main pillars: (1) gaining effective control of the border; (2) building a robust interior enforcement program; (3) establishing a Temporary Worker Program (TWP); (4) bringing illegal aliens who are now in the U.S. out of the shadows; and (5) promoting assimilation of new immigrants into our society. With Congress's help, DHS has made measurable progress in achieving effective control of the border and improving the enforcement of our immigration laws in the interior. I would like to share some of our accomplishments with you today. But to continue on this path of success, you must help us further by giving us effective tools to do our job. As you consider immigration reform legislation, I urge you to heed the lessons of past reform efforts and avoid repeating their mistakes. In that respect, I would like to share with you some of my views, as the head of the Department charged with administering our immigration programs, of what we could learn from our past experience.
Protecting Our Nation's Border
We have accomplished a lot in improving our border enforcement. The following are our key accomplishments in this area:
6,000 National Guard Deployed to Border: In support of the President's initiative to secure the border, 6,000 National Guard personnel were deployed to the Southwest border as part of Operation Jump Start. In addition to the National Guard deployment, Border Patrol agent staffing increased by over 30 percent since 2001, as shown in the chart below.
"Catch and Return" Replaced "Catch and Release" Along the Borders: As part of the Secure Border Initiative, the Department ended the practice of "catch and release" along the Southern and Northern borders. In the past, we apprehended illegal aliens at the border from countries other than Mexico, who we could not immediately remove from the U.S., and then released them on their own recognizance. Often these illegal aliens failed to return for their immigration hearings. In July 2005, we were releasing up to 80 percent of non-Mexican illegal aliens because we did not have the bed space to hold them. As of August 2006, all removable aliens caught at the border are detained until returned to their home countries. When people know they will be held in detention and then returned to their home country, it creates a strong disincentive to cross illegally in the first place. Ending this practice and replacing it with "catch and return" is a breakthrough in deterring illegal immigration on the Southern border.
SBI Ends Catch and Release
Apprehension Rates Declined: Beginning in the third quarter, FY 2006 showed a marked decrease in the apprehension rate due, in principle, to the end of "catch and release," the implementation of Operation Jump Start, and the expanded use of expedited removal procedures, among other factors. The graph below provides historical data by fiscal year for total apprehensions of both Mexican and non-Mexican aliens between U.S. ports of entry. CBP's Office of Border Patrol (OBP) made nearly 100,000 fewer apprehensions in FY 2006 than in FY 2005 due to these factors. This decline is represented below by quarter, with the drop in apprehension rates corresponding to the implementation of Operation Jump Start in the third quarter of FY 2006 and the full implementation of "catch and return" in FY 2007.
Border Security at and Between the Nation's Ports of Entry Increased: By deterring illegal immigration, security has been strengthened. With fewer alien crossings, DHS can more effectively target resources to control our borders with fewer alien crossings. As shown in the chart above, our efforts resulted in a reduced number of apprehensions at the borders during each of the three quarters since Operation Jump Start.
SBInet: Last year, DHS initiated a multi-year plan - SBInet - to secure our borders and reduce illegal immigration by upgrading technology used in controlling the border, including improved communications assets, expanded use of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, and state-of-the-art detection technology. We are currently evaluating the proper mix of fence and other tactical infrastructure, as well as personnel and technology, to gain effective control of the Southwest border.
Two operational task orders have already been contracted under SBInet; they are Project 28 and Project 37. Project 28 is being carried out along 28-miles of border flanking the Sasabe, Arizona Port of Entry. It will demonstrate the SBInet system's capabilities by deploying sensor towers, unattended ground systems and upgrades to existing Border Patrol vehicles and communication systems. Project 28's completion date is set for June 2007. In January 2007, we awarded a task order for Phase I (9 miles) of the Barry M. Goldwater Range Project 37. The next phase of this project involves completion of 34 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers.
US-VISIT's Biometric Program Kept Terrorists and Other Criminals Out of Our Country: US-VISIT's biometric program increased watch list hits by 185 percent at consular offices between FY 2005 and FY 2006. The program protects American people by keeping terrorists and other criminals out of our country, while facilitating visits from legitimate travelers. In FY 2006, there were 2,558 watch list hits at consular offices, up from 897 hits in FY 2005. The use of biometrics has allowed DHS to deny entry to more than 1,100 known criminals and visa violators.
Improving Interior Enforcement
We have also dramatically improved the enforcement of our immigration laws in the interior. The following are some of our key accomplishments:
ICE Set New Records for Worksite Enforcement and Compliance Enforcement: As depicted in the graph below, in FY 2006 more than 4,300 arrests and apprehensions were made in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) worksite enforcement cases, more than seven times the arrests and apprehensions in FY 2002, the last full year of operations for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
In our most recent worksite enforcement operation, on February 22, 2007, ICE agents arrested 190 unauthorized workers in 64 locations who were employed by ROSENBAUM-CUNNINGHAM INTERNATIONAL, Inc. (RCI), a Florida-based company that specializes in nationwide contract cleaning services at several national restaurant chains and resorts. The charges include allegations that one of the owners and his co-conspirators obtained over $54 million from its contracts by using sub-contracting cleaning crews comprised almost entirely of undocumented aliens. This two-year investigation is just the latest example of our intent to maintain an aggressive worksite enforcement program that targets egregious employers who are knowingly violating the law.
ICE Set New All-Time Record for Alien Removals: ICE removed 192,171 illegal aliens including 88,217 criminals, from the country in fiscal year 2006. This marks a 13 percent increase in total removals and a 4 percent increase in criminal removals over the prior fiscal year. As shown in the following chart, ICE also increased its detention bed space by 6,700 during FY 2006 and is now funded for a total of 27,500 beds for FY 2007.
Elements of a Successful Immigration Reform
Border Security and Interior Enforcement
I especially urge Congress to ensure that the immigration legislation contains provisions strengthening the worksite enforcement system. Effective worksite enforcement tools are crucial to mitigating the economic incentives that draw illegal aliens into the United States. If those who are here illegally cannot find jobs, we will remove the main incentive drawing illegal immigration to our country.
While we have dramatically increased our worksite enforcement efforts, they have been severely hampered by a lack of tools, both for enforcement officials and for employers who want to comply with the immigration laws. I urge Congress to fill gaps in current law, and to do the following to make sure that our worksite enforcement is both workable and effective:
? We should make it mandatory for employers to use the Electronic Employment Verification System (EEVS). This system would enable employers to confirm that their new hires are U.S. citizens or work-authorized aliens. This system would give employers a verification tool that is accurate, fast and easy to use. But we need legal authority to assure that the Social Security Administration can share with us and with employers data concerning stolen identities being misused to obtain work illegally.
Temporary Worker Program and Program for Currently Undocumented Workers
Our efforts to ensure vigorous enforcement of our laws in the interior, and especially at the worksite, are crucial to controlling the problem of illegal immigration. But they alone will not be sufficient. We must create a lawful mechanism so that in the future, foreign workers can come into the United States on a temporary basis to fill jobs that U.S. workers do not want. This regulated channel for temporary workers would dramatically reduce the pressure on our borders, aid our economy and ease the task of our law enforcement agents inside the country. There is an inextricable link between the creation of a TWP and better enforcement at the border.
We also cannot ignore the presence in our country of about 12 million illegal aliens. Many of them have been living in the United States for a long time, doing jobs that our economy needs to have filled. As Secretary Gutierrez stated, it is simply not in our interest to have a population of this size remain in the shadows of our economy and often beyond the reach of law enforcement. We should seek to bring these people out of the shadows and under the rule of American law. That process must also involve acknowledgment and atonement for those who have broken our immigration laws.
Over the course of the past month, Secretary Gutierrez and I have had the chance to meet with many of you and your Senate colleagues. We listened carefully to your views on the main features of immigration reform in general and of this problem in particular. We are considering carefully what we have learned in our conversations. After we have had some time to consider your advice, I hope to return to you so that we can work together on sound and long overdue immigration reform legislation.
Today, though, I would like to share with you some of my own thoughts, as the head of the Department that would be charged with administering the TWP, as to some of the principles that should guide that program. These thoughts are shaped by our experience administering the system that was bequeathed to us by the 1986 immigration reform:
? First, we need to have clear and consistent application standards that will protect the applicant, guide those reviewing and granting each application, and defend against fraud. One of the mistakes made by the drafters of IRCA was the vagueness of its eligibility provisions. The requirements for applicants must be simple and straightforward. The more confusing or complicated the process is, the less likely it is that applicants will seek to enter the program, and the more likely it is that the system will be abused. We should minimize the number and complexity of fact-based adjudications that must be performed by a government agency.
Workable reforms are needed in many areas of immigration law. Today, Secretary Gutierrez and I have shared with you some of our thoughts as to the measures needed to build a successful immigration system. I thank you for the opportunity to do so.