President Obama’s immigration speech in El Paso today is a poor substitute for the real border security the country still desperately needs. And it was a transparent attempt to keep using illegal immigration as a campaign issue, as President Obama made no attempt to solve this problem during the two years his party held huge majorities in both houses of Congress. His own administration has not done its job to finish the border fence that is a critical part of keeping Americans safe and stopping illegal immigration.
Rather than holding immigration summits at the White House with special interests and making speeches, President Obama should direct the members of his administration tasked with homeland security and patrolling the border to enact measures that have already been made law by Congress.
Five years ago, legislation was passed to build a 700-mile double-layer border fence along the southwest border. This is a promise that has not been kept.
Today, according to staff at the Department of Homeland Security, just 5 percent of the double-layer fencing is complete, only 36.3 miles.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’s investigative arm, reported in early 2009 that only 32 miles of double-layer fencing had been built. That means under President Obama, only 4.3 miles of double layer fencing has been built. This is woefully inadequate.
While the border-fence construction lags, Mexican cartels continue to smuggle drugs, weapons, and illegal aliens into our country, attracting violent crime.
The United States Attorney’s Annual Statistical Report for Fiscal Year 2009 stated that “violence along the border of the United States and Mexico has increased dramatically in recent years.” Citing a National Drug Intelligence Center report, it continued, “Mexican drug trafficking organizations represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States and the influence of Mexican drug trafficking organizations over domestic drug trafficking is unrivaled.”
Last month, officials in Brownsville, Texas, found a homemade, improvised explosive device on Highway 77 that resembled the bombs used against U.S. troops in the Middle East and by Mexican drug cartels.
The government has even warned Americans not to travel in certain areas of the southwest because of crime. In June 2010, the U.S. Department of Interior posted signs near the Sonoran Desert National Monument that read, “travel not recommended,” warning the public that it was considered an “active drug and human smuggling area.”
This is an embarrassment. Americans should be free to move about the country without fear of being confronted by human smugglers and drug dealers.
Yet, alarming statistics demonstrating how dangerous our borders have become continue to pour in.
Kumar C. Kibble, the deputy director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, recently testified that more than half of the illegal aliens removed from the country last year, upwards of 195,000, were convicted criminals — the most ever removed from the country in a single year. But, even if ICE removes record numbers of illegal aliens from the country, it does little good if they are able to easily re-enter.
Despite the clear evidence of the serious dangers that remain at our unsecured borders, the president glossed over these problems today. In his campaign-style speech, the president wrongfully proclaimed he’s “answered those concerns” about border security and pushed for passage of amnesty proposals in Congress.
Our nation’s borders are fundamental to our national security and sovereignty. Americans shouldn’t be forced to live under the threat of kidnappings, drug violence, and gang activity because of political posturing in Washington. Security must be at the crux of any credible immigration policy.
A few weeks ago, celebrities like Eva Longoria of ABC’s Desperate Housewives were invited to the White House to offer their advice on immigration. At another White House event, Obama chatted with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka about immigration. Trumka is a longtime amnesty advocate, and a close political ally that the president is counting on for help in his reelection. Labor unions are losing popularity nationwide and are hoping for an influx of millions of new dues-paying members if illegal immigrants are given amnesty.
Notably absent from those meetings was anyone advocating that the federal government keep its promise and follow the letter of the law by securing the borders and finishing the fence.
A border fence alone will not solve the problem of illegal immigration. We must also have interior enforcement of immigration law. But, Americans view the fence as a critical first step. That’s why every comprehensive immigration plan has failed so far and why Obama’s speech today will likely be ignored by Congress.
Only when the border is secure will Americans trust Washington to pass broader reforms to create an immigration system that works. They know speeches and summits won’t begin to secure the border: The fence will.
— Jim DeMint is a U.S. senator from South Carolina.