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Some argue that the immigration system is “broken” and needs to be reformed. Former Border Patrol Chief William Carter responds, outlining just how the federal government has failed to enforce the laws it passed in the first place.

Article by J. William Carter

One thing that everyone could agree on during the health care debate was that some type of reform was necessary. However, that is not the case when it comes to immigration reform. I wonder if the Congress of the United States remembers that in 1986, they passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), also known as the Simpson–Mazzoli Act, and that President Ronald Reagan signed it into law that same year. Included in that legislation was an employer sanctions provision, making it a crime for employers to knowingly hire illegal aliens, thus attempting to remove the magnet—jobs—that draws illegal aliens to the United States in the first place. A second and unfortunate provision of that same law granted amnesty to most illegal aliens who had resided continuously in the United States since 1 January, 1982, providing them with the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents of the United States and a path to United States citizenship. The talk on Capitol Hill is again to grant amnesty to those illegal aliens currently residing in this country, this time, according to the experts, to as many as 13 million people.

On 27August, 2009, Cable Network News (CNN) reporter Lou Dobbs reported that a new immigration bill is working its way through Congress. Provisions of this legislation include the following: a reduction in the number of miles for the fence project already underway along the Mexican border, and granting legal status to applicants for amnesty within 24 hours after application has been received, even if a background check has not been completed.
The completion of such a background check within 24 hours would be next to impossible. In addition, all immigration attorney fees would be paid with taxpayer dollars for those representing illegal aliens. The law would also encourage citizens of Mexico to remain in their country by giving your taxpayer dollars to the Mexican government to provide health care and a quality education for its citizens. This bill would further provide in-state college tuition for illegal aliens; a benefit denied to United States citizens. This is not much of an incentive for them to stay in Mexico! Also reported by CNN, and according to the Heritage Foundation, there are two provisions that would include amnesty for an estimated 30,000 illegal Mexican gang members residing in 33 states, and amnesty for illegal aliens with formal orders of deportation. This proposed legislation is all about amnesty and not about strengthening the security of our borders.

Thirteen-plus million illegal aliens currently residing in the United States is not an indicator that new immigration reform is necessary, but rather an indication that IRCA, along with other enforcement efforts, was not allowed to work. After a few years of successful sanctions enforcement, the administration reduced significantly any effort by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to continue enforcing the sanctions provisions of the bill. Political pressure from employers was too great and the administration’s priorities toward illegal immigration changed.

Employer sanctions did work and contributed to the reduction of entries of illegal aliens into the United States for a period of time following IRCA’s enactment. During fiscal year 1986 (1 October through 30 September), the year that IRCA was signed into law, the INS apprehended 1.7 million illegal aliens. After four years of sanctions enforcement, the number of apprehensions was successfully reduced to just under one million.

The question has been asked how can employer sanctions be considered a success when apprehensions decline rather than increase in a four-year period. The answer is simple—apprehensions declined because fewer aliens attempted entry into the United States as the opportunity for employment became scarce and as penalties were imposed on those who knowingly hired illegal aliens. Even the simple threat of such enforcement action caused employers to become more careful in their hiring practices. The vast majority of illegal aliens entering the United States are here for one reason and one reason only—the opportunity to work. When that opportunity is removed, either by sanctions against employers or because the United States is in an economic and unemployment crisis as we are today, the number of illegal aliens even attempting to cross our borders is reduced significantly. The evidence is clear that sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens work if those sanctions are enforced. The financial penalties imposed against the employer must be significant enough to cause hardship and discomfort on those that perpetrate such a fraud.

Employer sanctions by themselves are not a stand-alone answer to controlling and securing our international borders. Securing our borders can be further accomplished through the instillation of barriers (fencing) at strategic border locations. According to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, some miles of fencing is in place and have proven effective. This too does not require any new immigration reform legislation. Barriers are not required along all 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, as many miles of border are so rugged and inhospitable that such barriers are unnecessary.

The installation of barriers in strategic locations creates a funnel effect, resulting in attempted entries into the United States being made at locations already known and patrolled by the Border Patrol, thus improving the efficiency of their operations.

There are those who oppose securing our border with barriers because of a possible environmental impact on the land and animals. This issue must be dealt with because the securing of our border trumps any environmental concerns. It has also been suggested by some that a border fence is tantamount to a “Berlin Wall.” “To argue that the U.S. does not have the moral right to build a fence along its southern border is, in effect, to argue that the homeowner does not have the moral right to lock his own back door against uninvited entrants.”

A further deterrent to the illegal entry of aliens into the United States that does not require any additional legislation is interior repatriation—returning individuals to their country of origin. This concept is not new and has been proven effective on several occasions since the late 1920s. However, the INS put interior repatriation on hold in the 1970s. In 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) conducted an interior repatriation pilot program, and in 2009 DHS announced that a formal agreement had been reached with Mexico for the “voluntary” repatriation of Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico, a step in the right direction. Repatriation should be considered an enforcement tool and all illegal aliens should be returned to the interior of Mexico, not just those who volunteer. From an enforcement perspective the purpose of repatriation is to create an inconvenience, making it difficult for the individual to return to the immediate border with the United States and once again attempt illegal entry. (See the full coverage of repatriation in a future issue of SOF…ed.)

Our National Guard is a resource and force multiplier that has been utilized with great success in the past along the Mexican border. Their mere presence has contributed significantly to securing our border. Gathering intelligence through listening and observation posts, as well as constructing roads and barriers, has resulted in fewer attempts being made to enter the United States. Unfortunately this resource has been removed from the immediate border and redeployed. They are an invaluable resource that must be returned to the border. It has been suggested that President Obama may move the nationalized National Guard to the Mexican border due to the escalating drug war. How unfortunate that his actions are reactive rather than proactive. Regardless, the presence of the National Guard will prove once again to be a positive deterrent to all illegal activity along the border.

No matter how hard we try as a nation to secure our borders, some will be successful in penetrating our first line of defense. With this in mind we must consider interior enforcement, and once again it’s something that can be accomplished without further legislation. Interior enforcement is not a new concept, but one that is no longer performed by the Border Patrol, also known now as Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In times past Border Patrol agents were permanently assigned to interior locations of our country. However, as strategies changed and the emphasis was placed on our immediate borders with Mexico and Canada, the presence of Border Patrol agents within the interior was no longer considered necessary, therefore leaving a minimal immigration enforcement presence throughout the American heartland. Our friends from north and south of the border quickly recognized that a successful journey away from the border would result in a free pass to employment and entitlement programs without fear of arrest or removal from our country. How can this breach in security be corrected? The answer is simple, by once again assigning Border Patrol agents to the interior of the United States. However, this can only be accomplished after it has been determined that the immediate border with Mexico is secure, or after Congress has provided additional Border Patrol agent resources. Interior enforcement can be further enhanced by adding area control operations to the mission statement of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Deterrence is a significant part of any strategy to secure our borders and is accomplished through sanctions against those who knowingly hire illegal aliens. It is further accomplished by installing permanent barriers along our borders, by repatriating the illegal alien population far away from our immediate border with Mexico, and through interior enforcement and the removal of apprehended aliens from the interior. Illegal aliens as well as the countries from which they come must understand that the United States will not tolerate any threat against the sovereignty of this great nation.

Controlling our borders is not an unattainable goal. However, those in Washington, DC, must agree that it is a necessary goal. It can be accomplished without any additional immigration reform legislation. Customs and Border Protection agents under the DHS are not being allowed to perform the job for which they were hired. The employer sanctions provisions of IRCA have never been amended or superseded; they have just never been consistently enforced.

Reestablish the sanctions provisions of IRCA as they are clearly articulated in the 1986 legislation. Allow the CBP to protect our immediate borders with Mexico and Canada; reestablish the employer sanctions units that were once in place; emphasize the importance of interior enforcement, and there will be no need to grant amnesty to some 13million illegal aliens. The sovereignty of this nation must come before all else. The care and well being of our United States citizens should be second to none, and without secure international borders this will never be accomplished.

The United States has a long and valued tradition of welcoming immigrants and visitors. But the attacks of 11 September, 2001, showed that some come to the United States to commit terrorist acts, and to raise funds for illegal terrorist activities, or to provide other support for terrorist operations here and abroad. We are also confronted with the very probable takeover of U.S. towns on or near the Mexican border by ruthless drug cartels and murderers. The Government of the United States and persons in positions of authority should not and cannot tolerate these activities.

Strict enforcement of our immigration laws is a must and every action should be taken to prevent the illegal entry of aliens and contraband.

J. William Carter entered on duty with the United States Border Patrol in 1972 and served as a Border Patrol Agent in Arizona, Texas, California and Washington, DC. Retired in 2002 from Border Patrol Headquarters, Washington, DC. He was an expert immigration consultant from 2002-2007, working with industry addressing border security and employer sanctions issues. He was a third generation Border Patrol agent. His grandfather, Horace Carter, was a member of the original and first "1924" Border Patrol class. His father, Harlan B. Carter, was Chief, U.S. Border Patrol, in the 1950s. Other affiliations include: Member National Rifle Association Board of Directors since 2002. Member of National Rifle Association Whittington Center Board of Trustees since 2003. Former member of Texas State Rifle Association Board of Directors and Executive committee.