The Corner

Talking Border Security with Michael Chertoff

As the nation turns its eyes toward Arizona’s border, Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, tells National Review Online that it’s time for the Obama administration to make a “frank assessment” of its border policy, saying they “owe it to the country to demonstrate that there is not a conditional commitment to border security.”

Money talks: “We’ll have to watch the budgets going forward,” Chertoff says. “Will technologies, in whatever form, continue to be deployed? There has been consistent progress on that front. We need to be aggressive with the budget and manpower. And if we decide we need more boots, hire more boots.”

Toward a comprehensive enforcement policy: Border enforcement cannot be “one thing in isolation,” Chertoff says. “What drives the flow down is a combination of tools. The fence by itself slows people up, but it doesn’t stop them. You can go over, under, or cut through that. Still, in certain areas fences remain important in making it harder for illegal immigrants to make it to a vanishing point, a town or road where they can disappear. Sensors are part of that process, too, in helping to detect a breach.”

The virtual fence isn’t working: “There have been some challenges,” Chertoff admits. “The original stretch of about 20 miles, put up during the Bush administration, was really being used as a test bed. Frankly, it was a disappointment. Contractors had a difficult time in getting it up and running. It is fair to say that we need to step back and maybe use a different mix of technology. Maybe mobile radar — something less fixed — or fewer radars, or different kinds of sensors. I don’t necessarily attribute any great significance to the Obama administration’s decision to hold back on some money for the program. You should always be challenging yourself that way.”

Deploying the National Guard is expensive: “This is a budget issue,” Chertoff says. “Generally, governors would like to have the National Guard on the border. The reality is that it costs money. That money would come out of the defense budget and its other missions. The question is whether what we have is sufficient. We need to get more boots on the ground first, and then it might be appropriate to get the National Guard back, especially as a contingency plan in case of significant border violence spilling over from northern Mexico.”

— Stay on friendly terms with Mexico: Soon after Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed her state’s new immigration law, Mexico issued a travel warning to its citizens, advising them to avoid the state. Chertoff hopes the law does not damage U.S.-Mexican relations. “Obviously, anything that creates the impression that Americans are hostile to Mexicans is not helpful,” he says. “As people who live in that part of the country can tell you, we have a longstanding economic and cultural relationship with Mexico that has benefited both countries. Now, I’m a big supporter of enforcement, but it’s important to not go about it in a way that offends American citizens or compromises the rights of people legally here. If this starts to send a coded message of prejudice, that would be very unfortunate. That’s why the details of the law and the methods of enforcement are so important.”

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