The Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Customs and Border Enforcement - the successor agency to the failed U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service - has initiated an aggressive program to capture and deport illegal immigrants. What a concept!
Of course the Border Patrol's vigorous efforts to enforce our nation's immigration laws have provoked complaints from so-called "immigration advocates" (those who want to legalize the illegals) and businessmen who hire the "undocumented workers" that sneak into our country by the thousands in defiance of our laws. And some conservative Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who can usually be counted upon to espouse strict law-and-order policies, have criticized recent immigration crackdowns along our southern border with Mexico.
In Southern California, according to the Associated Press, "Many illegal immigrants have been gripped by fear since a new Border Patrol unit began roving through Hispanic communities and making arrests well north of the border, beyond the agency's usual area of operations."
"Everyone is afraid," said 19-year-old Celestina, who came to Ontario, Calif., from Mexico five months ago. "We're like mice, hiding in our homes."
Every time I consider this thorny issue I think of my late, Mexican-born wife Consuelo, who learned English, filled out the immigration forms, stood in line at our embassy in Mexico City, and studied U.S. history and government in order to become a proud American citizen. So I can't work up much sympathy for Celestina and others like her who ignore our laws and hide out in Southern California (or Nevada) while they send money back home to their families in Mexico, thereby sparing their own government from having to confront Mexico's endemic economic problems.
California is now home to more than 2 million illegal immigrants, and thousands of them are coming to Nevada in search of work. Before the Homeland Security Department was created two years ago, INS agents concentrated on the border, but now that Border Patrol agents have moved inland, immigration advocates are crying "foul."
"These sweeps have created a pervasive fear and even anger among Latinos regardless of their immigration status," Los Angeles immigration attorney Shaheena Ahmad complained to the AP. "If you're here legally ... you don't have anything to worry about," replied Border Patrol spokesman Raul Martinez. Good point, Raul. It's called obeying the law.
And in Arizona, the Border Patrol has initiated a $10 million Arizona Border Control program, which has deployed 260 new enforcement agents and a small arsenal of equipment - including aerial drones, airplanes, helicopters and ground sensors - to stem the flow of illegal immigration along sparsely populated sectors of the southwestern border. More illegals are now attempting to enter the U.S. through the Arizona desert since large sectors of the border have been closed off in California and Texas.
According to Tamar Jacoby, an immigration scholar at New York's Manhattan Institute, the Arizona initiative "is the first serious step toward implementing the controversial immigration proposal President Bush outlined last January." Writing in the Washington Post, Ms. Jacoby described the president's proposal as "a historic liberalization of U.S. (immigration) policy" combined with a "tough-as-nails enforcement effort." Well maybe, but I still view the president's proposal as a thinly disguised blanket amnesty designed to appeal to voters who protect and support illegal immigrants.
Fortunately, in my opinion, Bush's amnesty proposal fell flat because the White House hasn't even been able to recruit congressional sponsors for the ill-considered measure. For her part, Ms. Jacoby argues that our current immigration laws are "unrealistic and patently unenforceable."
I happen to agree with her analysis that "for years now ... Congress has been passing stern-sounding immigration measures to reassure a public clamoring for control of our borders," while simultaneously winking "at those laws and routinely flaunting them for the sake of businesses dependent on (illegal) migrant labor," including more than a few Nevada casinos.
However, the solution can never be to legalize illegal immigration. That would only compound the problem and tell foreigners that we're not serious about controlling our borders at a time when we're fighting a war against international terrorism.
As of July 1, under the Arizona program, many illegals who are apprehended in the Sonoran region are being offered a choice of flights to either Mexico City or Guadalajara, from where they are bused to their hometowns. Homeland Security officials say the "interior repatriation initiative" supports their goals of saving lives and reducing the power of immigrant smuggling organizations along the border.
Those are laudable goals and I wish the new department well in its aggressive, and long overdue, efforts to enforce our immigration laws.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.