26 September 2004
Two stories in the news during the past week illustrate the cavalier approach this country takes toward immigration and national security in wartime. The first deals with efforts by a prominent senator to compel the Department of Homeland Security to change its policy of releasing illegal immigrants with potential terrorist ties into the United States. The second is efforts by open-borders advocates to prevent state and local law enforcement from cooperating with immigration authorities to apprehend illegals in our midst.
Homeland Security officials told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that more than 4,000 people from nations identified by the State Department as national security concerns or sponsors of terrorism were apprehended since 2000 and that an "unknown number" were released back into the United States. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, the chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and border security, Sen. Charles Grassley, expressed his dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Mr. Grassley says that Homeland Security's answers to the panel's questions show the department concluded that it was impractical to detain those people. So, it decided to release them even though it lacked information on whether any of them "were terrorists or associated with terrorist links," Mr. Grassley said. The query is part of an investigation into the detention of non-Mexican illegal aliens. Mr. Grassley said the department's practice of releasing these people after their capture is "alarming." We agree.
But DHS has a different view of reality. In its responses to Mr. Grassley's questions, Homeland Security said it was "not practical" to detain all non-criminal non-Mexicans during immigration proceedings. The department also said that most such people are released, that a majority fail to appear for immigration hearings and that they "simply disappear into the United States." Mr. Grassley points to these and other known lapses in border security as a "potential public safety threat." He is absolutely correct, and Mr. Grassley is performing a public service by highlighting the problem.
Unfortunately, much of the discussion of immigration in recent days was hijacked by groups like the National Council of La Raza, the AFL-CIO and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which staged a series of demonstrations and media events on Capitol Hill and across the country to lobby for "immigrant rights." A central goal of these groups is defeating the Clear Law Enforcement for Alien Removal, or CLEAR Act, which would strengthen the authority of the nation's 600,000 state and local police officers to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law. CLEAR is a critical law enforcement tool. It should be taken up and passed by Congress next year.