Homeland security chief stops short of promising more border help
Chicago Tribune | August 24, 2005
BY FRANK JAMES
WASHINGTON - (KRT) - While sympathetic to the plight of U.S. border communities reeling under the rising tide of illegal immigrants, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff stopped short Tuesday of promising such places any significant increase in the number of border agents or other federal resources.
Chertoff said his department would likely shift some resources to troubled areas, especially once an ongoing review of illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border is completed. But he told reporters it is necessary to find a more comprehensive solution to secure the nation's borders.
The comments came in the context of recent decisions by the governors of Arizona and New Mexico to declare states of emergency due to the influx of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking along their borders from Mexico.
"I can sympathize with the need for additional resources on their borders," said Chertoff, who added that he has spoken with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano but not with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, both of whom are Democrats.
"They have drug gangs. They have smuggling gangs," who are often armed and have been known to attack U.S. border agents, Chertoff said.
The volume of illegal immigrants has caused problems for private landowners and small communities whose police and medical services are stretched to the breaking point.
"It's not only a strain on the border communities where there's crime but it's a larger strain on all our communities having to deal with the burden of illegal immigration," Chertoff said. "But we need to have a comprehensive solution."
Such a solution, Chertoff said, would include a temporary worker program like that proposed by President Bush that would "regularize" the immigration process and take the incentive away from smuggling gangs. It would also include improved interior enforcement to catch and deport foreign nationals who lack proper documentation and criminal aliens.
Homeland Security press secretary Russ Knocke said his agency has been working with Arizona to better coordinate border security efforts between state and federal authorities.
Even before Napolitano declared a state of emergency, the Homeland Security Department had been focusing more of its efforts in the state, Knocke said. Meanwhile, Chertoff spoke with New Mexico's homeland security adviser this week to discuss problems there in an effort to craft a joint federal-state response.