Changes in border security have cut the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the nation's southern border, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said today. "For the first time, we've reversed momentum," he said.
Just within the past week, the number of Border Patrol agents serving in the department topped 18,000, Chertoff said. That's more than double the 9,000 agents on duty when President Bush took office in 2000. In addition, Chertoff said that the Bush administration will leave office having completed about 90 percent of the planned border fencing project along sections of the 700-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
But the beefed-up security, combined with a public increasingly more preoccupied with the troubled economy than the issue of immigration, shouldn't preclude legislators from crafting a comprehensive fix for the larger issue, he said.
Despite Bush's inability to implement his immigration reform plan, which Congress twice rejected, Chertoff said that a similar effort was still "the right way to go."
At the time, critics questioned the administration's proposal to create a path to citizenship (which opponents dubbed an "amnesty") without first effectively enforcing existing law and stopping the flow of people across the porous southern border. Since the measures' failure, the government has staged a series of high-profile raids on businesses suspected of employing undocumented workers.
Chertoff said it is still unclear if the boost to security and the tougher enforcement will pacify critics enough to enable the Obama administration to tackle the issue.