More illegal immigrants. More violence. More death. The public has had it. Now the Bush administration has a new plan. But will it matter?
Other changes will be more subtle. Over the course of the next year, DHS will phase in 27 new fugitive-operations teams, small groups that will root out illegal aliens living in cities and towns around the country. Today, there are just 17 teams. In addition, DHS hopes to train state prison officials to identify illegal-immigrant felons who could serve part of their prison terms back home; Arizona, one of the only states with such a plan in place, says it will save taxpayers there nearly $5 million this year.
Critics will be examining the changes carefully. Democrats have long worried that any local police involvement in enforcing immigration laws erodes trust between minority communities and police. And Chertoff's technique for ending catch and release, with its abridged legal procedures, is "chilling," says Marshall Fitz of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "No outside group has ever been permitted to study how it's worked in places where it's been tested so far."
Many wonder whether enforcement efforts alone--no matter how massive--can ever solve the problem. "Until Congress changes the broken immigration laws in this country," says Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, "all Homeland Security can do is close loopholes." Chertoff himself says it will be "much, much harder" to get control of the border without a guest worker bill. Others think DHS would see fewer border crossings if Congress simply made mandatory a now voluntary pilot program that lets employers check a worker's immigration status. But these are contentious issues that are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
Job sites. In the meantime, some critics would like to see Chertoff take a harder stance against illegal immigrants who are here now and the businesses that hire them. The Fugitive Operations Teams, critics contend, target mostly illegal aliens with criminal records and those who have failed to make required court dates, a group that accounts for just over 450,000 of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Chertoff has told his department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch to focus its scant worksite-enforcement resources on places of national security interest--like airports and nuclear power plants--rather than farms and restaurants, where illegals are more likely to be working. "This administration is only concerned with illegal immigration when it concerns terrorists," says Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Other critics say that although Chertoff has called his worksite plan "new," it's really just more of the same: ICE already keeps an eye on airports and nuclear plants.
For now, many are happy just to have a new plan, and they're hoping major organizational turmoil--a DHS hallmark--doesn't sidetrack the effort. DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner advocated in a recent report that ICE and Customs and Border Protection, the DHS division that includes the Border Patrol, be merged. And one House committee is considering a bill that would do just that. But it's hardly enough for those on the front lines of the border war. "Shifting around boxes," says Arizona Governor Napolitano, "sounds like a Washington solution."