Commentary: Border Fence Would Clear Way to Aid Illegal Immigrants Now
President Bush blames Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), and Reid blames Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.), for the collapse of the hastily arranged immigration compromise bill. Hopefully, the two-week Senate recess provided a cooling-off period.
Months of posturing and pandering have not produced what America needs: a workable solution to the illegal-immigration crisis that is both just and fair. The two opposing sides - those who would prefer a bill consisting primarily of border-security measures and those who would prefer something that resembles amnesty - must now put the best interests of the nation above their self- interests as sparring politicians. Between the extremes of "border security only" and "amnesty only" lies the sensible middle ground: border security first, and broader immigration-law changes second.
The recent controversy over port security is a perfect harbinger of the firestorm that will rage if border security is not made the first priority in the immigration debate. When the American public fully understands the national-security threat posed by illegal immigrants coming into this country from Mexico - whose countries of origin include Iran, Syria, Libya, Chad, Afghanistan and Sudan - they will want to know why something wasn't done.
They will also rightly ask, "Why are people from terror-harboring and terror-sponsoring countries traveling to Mexico to cross our southern border illegally? Isn't it likely that at least some of them pose a threat to our national security?" It would take an imagination completely disconnected from post-9/11 reality to assume that illegal immigrants from "special interest" countries have traveled halfway around the world to enter the United States illegally so that they can pick strawberries.
How serious is the threat to national security from illegal immigration? In the last fiscal year, 649 people from "special interest" countries were caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. How many more eluded capture? Most experts agree that no more than one in three or one in four is apprehended. This suggests that about 2,000 "special interest" illegal immigrants may have gained entry into the United States in the last year alone. If the next terrorist attack on our nation is carried out by one or more people who came across our Southern border, the public outcry for immediate construction of a state-of-the-art border fence will be deafening - even if it is too late.
The time to build such a fence is now.
A high-tech border fence is the most essential, and most effective, component of any serious border-security proposal. Only a fence, backed up by an adequate force of Border Patrol agents, can address all of the dimensions of illegal immigration: economic migration, drug trafficking, human trafficking, organized crime and terrorism.
The WeNeedAFence.com project proposes a border-security system based upon the highly effective barriers in Israel, a design that is not easily compromised by climbing over, tunneling under, cutting or ramming. No one element of border security conveys seriousness of purpose as emphatically as a fence, but its greatest value may lie in its ability to break the stalemate in the legislative process.
The Senate appears to be committed to enacting some form of guest-worker program, while it proposes only token border-security measures. The House appears insistent on a proposal that prioritizes border security. The result is a stalemate. If it is not resolved, the American public will blame the Senate, the House and the President for failing to take action on one of our most pressing national challenges. They will not assign blame to one party, or one house of Congress, or one branch of government.
However, if an immigration bill calls for a fence to be constructed first, recent polling indicates that the public will more readily accept a temporary-worker program or some other form of legalization for the 12 million to 20 million illegal immigrants already here. If the public believes the tide of uncontrolled illegal immigration has finally been stemmed, it will be more inclined to be compassionate to those who now lack documentation and legal status.
Border security first, with other aspects of immigration liberalization implemented after a fence is constructed, is the best way to break the legislative stalemate and produce a bill that the President will sign. This is a solution that can truly unite our nation and create the working consensus that is necessary to get the job done.
John M. Templeton Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chairman of Let Freedom Ring Inc., which created the WeNeedAFence.com project.
illegal immigration, terrorism prevention, terrorism, Politics , Current Affairs