Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff has issued two
waivers of laws hindering barrier construction and security
improvements on the border with Mexico. The Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) has already built 309 miles of border obstacles, and
these waivers will facilitate improvements on about 500 miles of
border infrastructure. One waiver addresses environmental and land
management laws that applied to about 470 miles across four border
states; the other addresses a 22-mile levee-border project in
Hidalgo, Texas. The waivers were issued on April 1, 2008, and will
become effective upon their publication in the Federal
These DHS efforts reflect longstanding recommendations by The
Heritage Foundation. Border infrastructure is an important part of
the effort to interdict illegal crossings, and that interdiction is
vital to restoring the integrity of America's borders and
immigration laws. With these waivers, the Secretary shows that he
is following through on the George W. Bush Administration's
commitment to make border security, protecting the homeland, and
enforcing immigration laws a top priority. Congress should fully
support these efforts.
More needs to be done to achieve border security, which cannot
be fully accomplished until all components of an effective national
policy are in place. The Administration must vigorously enforce
immigration laws in the workplace, and Congress must provide for
temporary worker programs and visa reforms to get employers the
workers they need.
Doing What Is Right
During the 2007 immigration debate, Heritage experts traveled to
the U.S.-Mexico border to gain a firsthand understanding of the
situation. They met with the various stakeholders in the border
communities, including men and women from local law enforcement,
local businesses, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Border Patrol, the
U.S. Coast Guard, state and local governments, and Mexico.
Heritage's experts found a broken border, ravaged by
transnational crime including drug smuggling and human trafficking.
Despite this, they also found that cooperation among federal,
state, and local law enforcement agencies could make a difference.
In Texas, for example, Operation Rio Grande reduced crime in border
counties by 60 percent. The Heritage experts concluded that
enhancing security and community policing in the border areas was
Progress at the border has been stalled repeatedly stalled
because some barrier projects are complicated by environmental and
land-use disputes. Some advocacy groups, communities, and
individual land owners have used endless litigation to thwart the
Administration's efforts. Congress therefore gave the DHS Secretary
the authority to waive federal laws in order to expedite border
The litigation that DHS faced while trying to implement a
congressional mandate to secure the border is an example of what
could have happened if the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of
2007 (S. 1348) had been enacted. The bill combined an amnesty
"first" with the promise of enforcement "after." That enforcement
would have met with legal obstacles similar to the ones faced by
the other DHS efforts.
A Strategy That Works
Existing congressional mandates and appropriations for
enforcement at the border are sufficient to accomplish the task.
Congress has appropriated funds to implement border security
measures, and DHS has demonstrated the commitment to follow
through. More must be done to finish the job. Congress and the
Administration should do the following:
- Increase internal enforcement of immigration.
Congress should fully fund programs under the U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement's Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to
Enhance Safety and Security program, which facilitates federal,
state, and local cooperation on immigration enforcement. Congress
should also mandate Social Security "no-match" data sharing with
the Department of Homeland Security so that the DHS can prosecute
employers that intentionally hire workers who are not lawfully
present in the United States.
- Significantly increase legal opportunities for
employers to get the workers they need. This may be
accomplished through the reform and expansion of existing visa
worker programs and through "pilot projects" to develop new
programs. These programs should be flexible and adaptable to market
needs and should provide adequate levels of security and ensure the
integrity of the U.S. immigration system.
There is no need for a massive comprehensive immigration and
border security effort by the Congress. However, additional
measures are needed to restore the integrity of America's borders
and immigration laws.
James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom
Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research
Fellow in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Studies, and Diem Nguyen is a Research Assistant in the Allison
Center, at The Heritage Foundation.