NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
By most estimates, there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the US and about a half million more enter the country every year. On Tuesday, President Bush signed a bill that includes a significant increase in funding, $7 1/2 billion for border security.
(Soundbite of press conference)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Here's what the strategy's got to be. We've got to strengthen security along our borders to stop people from entering illegally. That means we've got to stop people from coming here in the first place. Secondly...
(Soundbite of applause)
Pres. BUSH: Secondly, we must improve our ability to find and apprehend illegal immigrants who made it across the border. If somebody's here illegally, we got to do everything we can to find them. And thirdly, we've got to work to ensure that those who are caught are returned to their home countries as soon as possible. The bill I sign today will provide critical resources for all these efforts.
CONAN: Over the years, successive administrations have tried to tighten control of the border with Mexico. Fences and patrols have changed immigration routes, but thus far nothing has stopped people from coming across. This new program is part of a larger policy that includes an expanded guest-worker program to provide legal opportunities. But programs like those have also been tried before with little effect on illegal immigration.
Our main focus today is how this $7 1/2 billion will be used and whether the Border Control can redeem Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's promise this week to deport every single person who enters the country illegally with no exceptions.
Later in the program, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen joins us to discuss the ongoing effort to clean up and rebuild the Gulf Coast from the devastation left by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
But first, security on the border. If you have questions about how this policy will be implemented, give us a call. We'd particularly like to hear from those of you who live in or near border towns. Will these new measures make a difference? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we begin with Caitlin Harrington, who covers Homeland Security for the Congressional Quarterly. She's joined us here in Studio 3A.
Nice of you to come in today.
Ms. CAITLIN HARRINGTON (Congressional Quarterly): Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Let's take these one at a time. The Border Patrol, they're getting an additional $2 billion. How would that be spent?
Ms. HARRINGTON: Well, a good chunk of that money will be spent on hiring an additional 1,000 new Border Patrol agents. These are people right at the border who are stopping, as President Bush said, the illegal immigrants from coming into the country. This 1,000 new agents is in addition to 500 additional agents that were provided for in a bill earlier this year, the war supplemental passed earlier this year. So...
CONAN: So that's an add-on beyond that.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Yeah. So we're adding a total of 1,500 new Border Patrol agents in 2006, which is pretty good, although I have to tell you that some of the Border Patrol people I've talked to would have liked to have seen even more. They were calling for 2,000 more agents in 2006. And so there is some work--progress being made in this area, but more Border Patrol, I think, would like to see more in general.
CONAN: What about intelligence capabilities--finding out about the smugglers, the coyotes, who bring a lot of these people across?
Ms. HARRINGTON: Well, Border Patrol has done some innovative work in terms of surveillance. One thing they're doing is that they have an unmanned aerial vehicle--only one right now, but at least it's a start, I guess. And it's called a Predator, and what it can do is fly across the border and look for illegals crossing and kind of cover a broader area than maybe people on the ground could. There's also some programs in the area of surveillance and sort of inspection of containers and things like that crossing the border.
CONAN: Yeah. Trucks and that sort of thing crossing the border.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Right. We have--there's actually $125 million in the budget for radiation portal monitors. And what these are, these are machines that you can put on the border that can basically scan trucks and cars and other vehicles passing over to see if there's any radiological material inside. So there are some efforts for inspection and surveillance that the Border Patrol has ongoing, and those were addressed, you know, sort of incrementally--small increases for that funding were in the budget this year.
CONAN: Would fences along the border be improved and expanded?
Ms. HARRINGTON: Yeah. There's actually about--I think about $35 million for the kind of infamous fence along the San Diego--near San Diego, along the border there.
Ms. HARRINGTON: You know, that's been kind of held up and there's been a lot of back and forth. I think there are some environmental issues of building the fence, but, yeah, they're moving ahead with that and they've decided that that's a priority. And as Chertoff--the Department of Homeland Security secretary said, I think, yesterday, the Southwest border there is where the majority--I think two-thirds of the illegal immigrants are crossing. So it's definitely an area of emphasis and the fence is supposed to at least help with that in some way.
CONAN: There is also a considerable amount of funding for additional beds for illegal immigrants. Why is that important and how would that be used?
Ms. HARRINGTON: Well, that's extremely important. That's actually one of the pillars of President Bush's immigration reform proposal here. He's got his temporary guest-worker program and then he has this proposal to remove all the illegal immigrants currently in the country. Now there is something called a detention and...
CONAN: All 11 million.
Ms. HARRINGTON: All 11 million, yes. Except--let's be clear here, that he's also proposing a temporary guest-worker program. So presumably, the great majority of those illegal immigrants would be made legal.
Ms. HARRINGTON: So we're talking, actually, about only about a fraction of those people.
CONAN: And so the idea is that you would have beds for these people because a lot of the time, it's--when people are arrested, there's no place to put them so they're released.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Exactly. We're releasing--I think we're releasing 80 percent of non-Mexican illegal immigrants in this country. Let me explain that a little. Basically, Mexican immigrants--illegal immigrants are normally just removed and sent back to Mexico right away. But when you have immigrants--illegal immigrants entering the country from other countries, it's more difficult to remove them from the country because they've got to go further and they've also got to go through an immigration appeals process. So they need a place to stay while they're awaiting their appeal and before they're sent back to their native country. And that's why we need detention beds. The problem is, we don't have enough. So the Customs and Border Patrol agents or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will often just release these immigrants and they're open to try--they're able to try coming right back into the country again.
CONAN: There's also money to send illegal immigrants back to where they came from, not just pump them across the Mexican border again, but if they came from Guatemala, send them back from Guatemala. If they came from Chiapas, send them back to Chiapas.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Right. And that's one of the key things that they're trying to do. There's money in the budget for 2006 for 2,300 more detention beds. So they are trying to increase the number so that they don't just have to let these people go right away. However, this still probably isn't enough. And Chertoff sort of acknowledged that yesterday when he was talking to the Judiciary Committee. He said, you know, `We're going to have to sort of play--utilize our resources as best we can 'cause we really don't have enough detention beds for all of these illegal immigrants.' And 2,300 is not anywhere close to the 8,000 that we're supposed to be adding every year, and that was actually mandated in a law last year. Again, the intelligence reform bill required Congress to add 8,000 more detention beds every year between 2006 and 2010 and here we are adding 2,300. So there's obviously a gap there.
CONAN: We're talking about proposals to tighten control of the border. If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com. Jake is calling us from Green Bay, Wisconsin.
JAKE (Caller): Hi. Am I on?
CONAN: Yes. You're on the air, Jake. Go ahead.
JAKE: How you doing, sir?
JAKE: Thanks for taking my call.
JAKE: I'm actually an ex-Border Patrol agent. I served in Naco, Arizona, one of the hottest corridors for illegal immigration. It was the focus of the Minuteman Project. They actually--the leader of that agency was from about 10 minutes away from where my station was. And I just want to comment on some of my experiences.
CONAN: Go ahead.
JAKE: Very, very frustrating job, very hard job due to the whole revolving-door policy. I mean, I spent, you know, 10-, 12-, 14-hour shifts chasing groups of 50, 60, 100 immigrants and putting myself in danger and then take them back to the station and turn around and they go right back to Mexico, and catch them the next day. And there's no sense of accomplishment in a job like that. And my choice was to leave the agency. But there's a huge morale issue in the Border Patrol with people that--they can't leave. They have families and things like that; they need to keep working there.
CONAN: Caitlin, would you say that's accurate as far as you know?
Ms. HARRINGTON: Yeah. The Department of Homeland Security across the board has--I think there's been a survey recently even saying that DHS employees in general have very little morale, and just from talking to some Border Patrol agents myself, that certainly seems to be a problem. There's concerns about, you know, training and who can carry a gun and who can't, and `How do I work with these agriculture inspectors and these Immigration and Custom Enforcement guys who come in and are trying to help me do my job?' How do--and just this--it's just a massive immigration. There's a lot of money involved, a lot of people involved and there's clearly the morale issues.
CONAN: Jake, do you think the kind of money that you're hearing about now, would that have made a difference?
JAKE: I didn't hear the exact figures. I...
CONAN: Border Patrol is supposed to get, I think, more than $2 billion.
JAKE: Oh, that's a very significant amount of money. Yeah. I think if it's used the right way--definitely, we need more personnel. But I think we need to also seek out the right kind of personnel, the people with a lot of integrity. I know I was only in for a year and a half and I think there's probably three people that were fired and indicted--agents--who were smuggling themselves.
JAKE: So I think some better controls on who you actually let into the agency, maybe lie detectors, psychological evaluations and also better physical testing, so you have good, good quality people, good, patriotic people that are going to do their job and not go crooked.
CONAN: Jake, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
JAKE: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's talk now with Doug Mosier. He's public information officer for the El Paso Border Patrol. The agents there cover the entire New Mexico border and two counties in west Texas.
Thanks very much for joining us today.
Mr. DOUG MOSIER (El Paso Border Patrol): Thanks a lot for the invitation.
CONAN: Your area is pretty big, 125,000 square miles. How many agents currently patrol it?
Mr. MOSIER: We have for our sector approximately 1,200 agents, and our sector includes, as you mentioned, all New Mexico, two counties of west Texas. So we are a fairly large geographic sector along the US-Mexico border.
CONAN: And is that enough?
Mr. MOSIER: Well, you know, we could always use more resources. I don't think you can talk to anybody in any sector and they'll tell you they don't need more resources. We feel like that we're doing pretty well in the El Paso sector in terms of personnel and technology and infrastructure. In fiscal year '05, for instance, we got 305 agents. We're still getting some of those from the academy and we're scheduled to get, of course, another 1,000 agents in fiscal year 2006 as part of the 2006 Appropriations Act.
CONAN: So you're thinking you're getting the resources that you're going to need.
Mr. MOSIER: Well, we think so and we feel like that any increase in resources is going to be beneficial. And, of course, those 1,000 agents we're getting in 2006 will be divvied up nationwide. But we feel like in El Paso, because we are one of the focus sectors, we will be getting a good, substantial part of that package.
CONAN: Doug Mosier, stay with us; also, Caitlin Harrington. We're going to continue this conversation after a short break, if you'd like to join us. And again we'd be particularly interested to hear from others of you who may have worked in the Border Patrol or associated agencies on this issue or live near the border: (800) 989-8255.
I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're discussing security along the border between the United States and Mexico. Later in the program, we'll be speaking with Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, who's heading up FEMA's response and recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And if you'd like to send e-mail questions now for the vice admiral and talk about how--the job FEMA's doing, you can send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But let's get back to the border for now. Our guests are Caitlin Harrington from Congressional Quarterly and Doug Mosier with the El Paso Border Control. If you'd like to join the conversation, (800) 989-8255. And again, that same e-mail address: email@example.com.
Doug Mosier, just before the break we were talking with a former Border Patrol agent who left out of frustration. Are you experiencing morale problems there along the border given the policies--as a result of the policies, where, as he was saying, you put people across the border and they're back again the next day?
Mr. MOSIER: Well, I think there's no doubt that we have our challenges along the US-Mexico border. We have a tremendous task in preventing terrorist weapons and terrorists from entering the United States. Plus, coupled with that, the traditional mission of preventing illegal immigration and smuggling from coming across our United States borders. So absolutely we've got our hands full. But as far as a morale issue, I don't think you'll find one here in this sector, by and large. But there's no doubt we have our challenges and that will continue as time goes on. There's no doubt about that.
CONAN: What would you say your biggest problem is?
Mr. MOSIER: Well, I think it's just a matter of being able to--being able to cover all areas of the corridors. You know, we do have challenges in terms of apprehensions, in terms of smuggling activity. Understand that aside from just being able to prevent illegal immigration, we're dealing with narcotic smugglers and all kinds of bad guys, if you will, that are coming between the international ports of entry, which is where we work. So our biggest challenge and the toughest part of our job is just being able to cover all those challenges and be able to meet the needs.
We are doing that very effectively. I don't think there's any doubt about that, with the resources we have and the national strategy, the Border Patrol has provided additional personnel, technology and infrastructure, and we're going to continue to see more of that as time goes on. So we're going to be in good shape, I think, even better as we go.
CONAN: Doug Mosier, thanks very much for being with us today. I know you're...
Mr. MOSIER: My pleasure.
CONAN: Appreciate you taking the time.
Doug Mosier is a public information officer for the El Paso Border Patrol and he spoke to us from his office there.
Let's get some more callers on the line. And this is Bill and Bill's calling us from Clements, California.
BILL (Caller): Hi. How you doing?
CONAN: Very well.
BILL: Hey, great program. I really love it. My comment would be that I could not exist as a grape grower out here in California if it weren't for immigrants. There's no one else that shows up at my door when I need work done at, you know, dawn and work till it gets done. It is completely, in my view, highly inauthentic of the administration to put these kinds of restrictions on--both with this worker program that they're proposing, which is--I think is about as useless as you could get, and then the idea of running around, hunting down the folks that are already here. It's like closing the barn door after the cattle have gotten out. That's my view.
CONAN: Do you think that they're actually serious about hunting down people inside the country, Bill?
BILL: I think it would make their political base happier. I find that these people are probably the hardest-working folks that I've ever encountered. There are some cultural things that they're a little funny about, but other than that, I'm completely delighted to have them on my property and to have them work for me. I have no problem--you know, the net pay is probably $10 an hour...
BILL: ...and I can't get any US-based person to even come out and take a look at the job.
CONAN: You know, of course, that you're breaking the law when you do that.
BILL: Well, I'm paying Social Security on them. They're coming on with a Social Security number, so my assumption is they've got to be--but, you know, they can't speak English, so guess what?
CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
BILL: Appreciate that. Thank you.
CONAN: There is money, Caitlin, in the bill for interior enforcement of immigration laws. Is there a serious effort, do you think, under way to go and find people who might be working for Bill there in Clements, California?
Ms. HARRINGTON: That's a very good question and I actually think that this is really a question of political will, and I don't think it's there. If the administration was serious about enforcing and removing all of the illegal immigrants in the country, they'd be coming out with a really strong work site enforcement program, meaning that they'd be going to different workplaces and checking Social Security numbers and checking ID documents to make sure that people were in the country legally. But rather than going that route, what they're focusing on is this temporary-worker program, supplemented with sort of a vague plan to deport--to detain and remove illegal immigrants who are not part of the program. But I think you've got to just go to where the illegal immigrants are if you're really serious and just go to the work sites, and we haven't heard anyone talking about that.
Ms. HARRINGTON: So I don't think there is the political will to really remove all the illegal immigrants.
CONAN: Let's talk now with John, John calling us from Tucson, Arizona.
JOHN (Caller): Hi. Yeah. This is a good--yes?
CONAN: Yeah. Go ahead. You're on the air.
JOHN: Yes, sir. The idea--if the idea is to stop illegal immigration, what I believe we need to do is to make the hiring of illegals a difficult thing for employers to do. And I would propose that we end--that we do this by severe fines and penalties, including incarceration. Now you have to couple that with a responsible and a workable guest-worker program, but you would have people lining up to get into the United States to get their legal card, to go work at a place where somebody would hire them.
JOHN: I think the people who hire illegal aliens, like your last caller, should be put in jail.
CONAN: Caitlin Harrington...
JOHN: And I'd like to say that because there's a lot of economic, ecological, social costs on both sides of the border. A lot of bad things happen to Mexicans and Americans because these people hire illegal aliens, whether they hire a maid or they hire someone to pick their grapes.
JOHN: And the one other thing I wanted to say...
CONAN: Well, just--I'll let you say it, John, but I just wanted to ask Caitlin Harrington, is there any money in the bill, is there any emphasis in the bill, is there any discussion, about making--enforcing the laws against hiring illegal aliens?
Ms. HARRINGTON: From my reading of the bill, I did not see that. I would want to check it again more thoroughly before I vouch that it wasn't in there. But it certainly hasn't been an emphasis in the rhetoric we've heard coming from the White House. And I know in the past, workplace enforcement has been really a peripheral issue.
I think one of the most symbolic sort of--what really embodies that is there's this program called the Basic Pilot Program, and what it is if employ--it's voluntary and if employers want to, they can take their employees' Social Security numbers and ID documents and run them against an immigration--a federal immigration database to confirm that these workers are legal. But it's voluntary and a lot of employers don't use it.
I know in the aviation industry, a lot of airports actually want to use it to verify that their workers are legal and there's some sort of federal problem where they actually can't, even though they want to. So it's voluntary and it's difficult to use. And this is our work site enforcement.
JOHN: In Arizona, the state Legislature took a provision off a recent bill that would have penalized employers for hiring illegal aliens.
CONAN: Hmm. John, thanks very much.
JOHN: Oh, I just--can I say one quick thing?
CONAN: Oh, yeah. No. I thought that was the one more quick thing. But go ahead.
JOHN: Well, actually, I have a cousin in Phoenix and he doesn't work at a job that most Americans won't do, and his wages have gone down. He's a carpet layer. Now we're going to have to pay more for certain things because the employers are going to have to pay liveable wages to people. But we're paying enough right now--we're paying--all the money you guys have been talking about the last few minutes...
JOHN: ...tremendous amount of money we're paying in taxes anyway. So let's go to the source, which is really the people that hire these people.
JOHN: And I think they're great people.
CONAN: OK. John, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
JOHN: Thank you.
CONAN: In August, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared states of emergencies in several counties along the Mexican border, citing an increase in criminal activity associated with the smuggling of people and drugs; also, a lack of federal support. The new federal appropriation addresses the latter concern, I guess, at least in part, but how far down the enforcement chain will that money flow? Joining us now is Clare May. He's the police chief of the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, which is along one of the main routes into the United States from Mexico.
And it's good to have you on the program today. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
Chief CLARE MAY (Columbus, New Mexico, Police Department): Thank you very much, Mr. Conan. It's a pleasure to be here.
CONAN: Before the governor of New Mexico declared that state of emergency, you were, as I understand it, overwhelmed with increased criminal activity in Columbus. Used to get--the numbers I'm seeing--17 calls a month. It went up to a hundred calls a month, is that right?
Chief MAY: We hit almost 120 a couple of months and it never fell below 80 for the last two or three years for a small, two- or three-man agency, yeah.
CONAN: And what kind of crimes were being reported?
Chief MAY: Well, believe it or not, we started getting better at detecting stolen vehicles and we started--well, the month of October last year, we recovered 20 stolens in just one month. And we started to see a very--influx of vehicles being used to transport aliens, high-speed pursuits through the middle of our community and vehicles used like that that were stolen from other jurisdictions that were hauling illegal aliens and immigrants in them.
CONAN: And this surge in crime, you say, do you believe that's entirely responsible--the responsibility of illegal aliens?
Chief MAY: I believe so. Right now I can tell you that since our governor declared the state of emergency in New Mexico state, police have been actively patrolling our area for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. My crime rate right now has reduced between 75 and 100 percent.
Chief MAY: So it's back to like 1999 where it used to be.
CONAN: Now how large is your jurisdiction there?
Chief MAY: I've got about seven square miles, but it's odd shaped. It's about five and a half miles long and about--at its widest point, three miles, shaped like an hourglass, and it goes right down to the port of entry.
CONAN: And you have--you're saying your whole police department is two or three people?
Chief MAY: Actually, I was down to two at one time. We had one individual that resigned his position, so in that real hectic time period, we were down to two officers, which no way you can do 24-hour coverage for a community of 2,100, 2,200.
CONAN: So as you're hearing about this new legislation, the reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security and the money that'll be going down to the border, do you think it's going to help?
Chief MAY: Well, what I see, Mr. Conan, is I see a lot on the federal level. I see about $3 million that's been appropriated for the Border Patrol office in Deming for vehicle barriers and fencing, which will definitely aid in that--or reduce the pursuits. But I don't see anything on a local level. I know that my senator, Bingaman, has sponsored another one for local law enforcement, which will directly impact me more significantly, and I think he's trying to get $30 million.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. That's Jeff Bingaman, the senator there?
Chief MAY: Yes, sir.
CONAN: Uh-huh. And I wonder, this influx--well, certainly that bump in crime that you were talking about, that creates a tremendous amount of work.
Chief MAY: Exactly. It does. I mean, with the enhanced and additional federal officers in the area, you understand our job difference--our trials are totally different, but they may run across a state crime; they will refer that to us. And that's one thing about state police and my calls for service (unintelligible) is my calls are dropping, but the state police are picking up. But right now I believe that what my governor did, Governor Richardson, he did the right thing at the right time. And the additional manpower here on the border has directly impacted a lot right now locally, but you know, the money right now that I see has been dedicated again towards the federal level, which I do believe that will work and it will help secure our borders, but on a local level there will be more work for me to do as they apprehend more criminal aliens and they refer, you know, cases like stolen vehicles to us.
CONAN: And as they refer cases like those to you, again, your paperwork and your jail time goes up, doesn't it?
Chief MAY: Right, exactly. And the cost too. I mean, it costs me $72 a day to house an inmate in a jail up in DeMay, which is 30-some-odd miles away, and when you have a staff of two and you're busy running your suspects to and from jail, you know, you don't have anybody here on the street protecting and serving like what we're sworn to do because we're so busy running other things around.
CONAN: We're talking today about money that's been approved by Congress and enacted by President Bush to improve security along the US-Mexican border. We're speaking with Caitlin Harrington of Congressional Quarterly, and right now with Clare May, the police chief of the border town of Columbus, New Mexico.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And, Chief May, let me ask you again, if--the thing about the state of emergency declared by the governor--are you getting the sense that, you know, this can't last forever? I mean, these resources are presumably normally deployed elsewhere in the state of New Mexico.
Chief MAY: Exactly. What my Governor Richardson has done is he's designated the four border counties as a state of emergency. He appropriated emergency money for additional hires, for equipment, for overtime. Right now my officers have moved to a 12-hour shift in order to accommodate his emergency. But that money's only going to end--it'll end probably about 14 or 16 weeks at the rate we're spending it right now. But also the employment issue--he's giving me enough money to hire three more people and buy two more cars.
You have to understand my budget doesn't allow me to buy a new car every year. I can't even come up with $21,000 every year to buy a new vehicle. This is going to be a direct infusion locally on local law enforcement and will benefit us, but after about October of next year, the governor's money is gone and there's the concern on my part, which brings me back to my Senator Bingaman's. Basically, he's sponsoring a bill, I know right now, for border law enforcement relief act of 2005(ph), which has money in it for jobs, equipment, and we're talking--that will carry this through from 2006 to 2010 on a local level. That one will significantly more impact better quality law enforcement services here for the village of Columbus than the federal act will. I understand both are probably both needed. Personally, I need the local money. I need the local infusion on the local level more than anything else.
CONAN: And when and if the Border Patrol gets beefed-up presence in your area, I presume that will take the pressure off you.
Chief MAY: It's already started, and they have already started their operations as well. Again, after Governor Richardson's declaration back in August, the state police were immediately on scene to take part of it. They started beefing up to go to 24-hour patrol, and you have to understand that's never been done in Columbus, New Mexico, ever before--not since 1916. And that was Poncho Visrez(ph), to give you an idea. So with the state police here, with what's happening, now the proper reporting and the crime-scene reports are being turned into the proper agencies, they're getting an idea of what was happening down here. But my governor was really paying attention to the people that live in this area. There may not be 50,000 people right here in Columbus, but he was listening to their concerns, finding out they're becoming victims of crime because of immigrants and the smuggling associated with it.
Chief MAY: And that includes, as well, the narcotics smuggling, and you have to understand. I associate smuggling a 12-year-old child into this country for use for prostitution as nothing more than human slavery or white slavery, and I know we abolished that in our country in 1863.
CONAN: Chief May, thank you very much for being with us, and good luck to you.
Chief MAY: Absolutely. Thank you so much, sir.
CONAN: Clare May is police chief of the border town of Columbus, New Mexico, a population 1,765. And he joined us from his offices there. And, Caitlin Harrington, again, the emphasis on this bill. I mean, he was talking about this bill sponsored by Senator Bingaman. But the bill signed by the president this week--does it have any kind of funding that would help people like Chief May?
Ms. HARRINGTON: I think the emphasis of the bill is more on the federal level, on the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol agents and also the Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. I think on the federal level, however, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement--it's usually known as ICE--they--I think they could provide some kind of help to local law enforcement 'cause basically it's their job to go around, round up these illegal immigrants and detain them. It really shouldn't, as far as the federal role goes--local law enforcement really shouldn't have to be spending a lot of their time doing that. They should be able to focus on crime, and immigration issues are supposed to be handled by ICE. ICE did get a big budget increase in 2006. They're up to $3.2 billion. And so they'll use that money to go ahead and try to net these illegal immigrants in the country. And they've already started to do that.
One thing they're doing is going to security-sensitive sites, like chemical plants and airports and places where there's the security issues, and they're rounding up and arresting illegal immigrants who work there. So they may be able to help the local law enforcement on that level.
CONAN: We're going to take a short break and then continue our discussion on border security, and just ahead, we'll also be talking with Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the principal federal officer for the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery effort. (800) 989-8255, if you'd like to join us; firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. An Australian TV reporter has videotape of American soldiers in Afghanistan burning the bodies of two dead Taliban fighters. His report also alleges the US troops mocked Islamic customs in an effort to taunt other guerrillas into a fight. And Florida Governor Jeb Bush has declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Wilma approaches. The Category 4 storm is bearing down on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula now and is expected to make landfall in Florida on Sunday. Details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.
Tomorrow it's "Science Friday," and Ira Flatow will be here with an update on Wilma and on the Pennsylvania trial over in intelligent design. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday."
And here's an update on a story we covered on Tuesday. There's news this afternoon that Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, will negotiate with generic drug companies to increase production. Tamiflu is the most effective drug to treat bird flu. Right now there is not enough to meet anticipated demand in the event of a flu pandemic.
Well, let's return now to our conversation on border security. Our guest is Caitlin Harrington, who covers homeland security for Congressional Quarterly. She joined us here in Studio 3A, and let's get another caller on the line. This is Adam--Adam's with us from San Diego.
ADAM (Caller): Hi there, Neal. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to point out that as a son of an illegal immigrant--my dad actually crossed the border about six times, got here five and stayed--or excuse me, got deported five and stayed. As you go through and look at airports or any other place, job sites, and pick up aliens to deport them, what you're going to find are a lot of people that have been here for a long time serving this country through their labor, whose children are also serving this country, as I do in the military. And I take great offense to the previous caller John and the way that he threw around the word `illegals' and how ugly that sounds to me personally. And I just wanted to point out that they're people. This whole country is made up of immigrants, and you know, in the past if you look at history, it's never ruined the country before and I don't think it will this time either.
CONAN: There are a lot of people upset about people crossing the border, and there's really no other word for it, John--`illegal'--Adam, excuse me, `illegally.'
ADAM: Right, that's true. But illegal immigrants is personally very different from saying `illegals' the way he says it, and to be quite honest, it's the same with the drug problem. It's not exactly the supply that's the problem; it's the demand. If everybody's willing to pay $10 for a bushel of grapes, maybe it wouldn't be necessary to have such cheap labor pick those grapes, but America's addicted to this free and cheap labor, but they're unwilling to deal with who's providing it to them.
CONAN: Adam, thanks very much. It's an important point. We appreciate it.
ADAM: Thank you. Bye.
CONAN: And there are plenty of people like Adam who feel the same way, and this is not only just an economic issue, but a human rights issue for many people.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Absolutely. These are all people, and we are all immigrants in this country, and it's important to remember that. And there certainly is a role for immigration in our society; it's just a matter of finding out what the best way is to do that to maximize the benefits for the immigrants and for the people who are here now. It's certainly an open debate about, you know, how much immigration there should be. I come at it from sort of a security perspective. I cover homeland security. And so one thing that I do try to think about is how the immigration affects that. And I think there's sort of two camps. There's one, the position the administration has taken, which is that, you know, if you create this temporary worker program and you legalize these illegal immigrants, you bring them out of the shadows, you bring them into the sunlight. You give them Social Security numbers; you find out who they are. You make sure they're not terrorists. And there is something to be said for that.
I've also talked to some immigration experts, though, who say that such a guest worker program will just encourage more illegal immigration. And there is a fundamental problem with illegal immigration, which is that you don't know who these people are. So there's certainly two sides to this argument, and--coming at it from the security perspective, and it's--there's no easy answer, but there has to be political will one way or the other and there has to be a majority in Congress and the president has to just decide what he wants to do--this combination of enforcement and a guest worker program--it's going to be tough to kind of get things under control.
CONAN: We've been talking about the border with Mexico primarily. Here's an e-mail from Mariville Tovar(ph) in San Antonio. She asks, `Does the bill include Cuban immigrants that ask for political asylum?'
Ms. HARRINGTON: Which part of the bill? The...
CONAN: Does any part of the bill cover this?
Ms. HARRINGTON: I'm not sure if there's an asylum provisions in the appropriations bill. I know there's provisions for detention and removal, but I'm not sure about asylum. I think that may be covered in other legislation.
CONAN: But it doesn't affect policy on Cuban immigrants who--it's still the wet foot/dry foot policy. If you touch down in the United States, you're allowed to stay; if you don't get to the United States, you're sent back to Cuba.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Yeah, I believe that still stands.
CONAN: OK. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Susanne. Susanne calling us from Crestline, California.
SUSANNE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.
SUSANNE: I am concerned. With this new billions of dollars for federal law immigration law enforcement, I'm concerned that these changes further threaten American democracy. Public discourse recently has shifted from the values of freedom and equality to having to balance freedom with security. Our political values are falling apart. The funds increase militarization of my country and I'd like to be able to use the public wheel to start at least thinking about the sources of illegal immigration, like the living conditions in Mexico and Central America. We could give farmers back their water from the Colorado River in Mexico. We could work to decrease political corruption in Mexico and protect Mexican workers in the maquiladoras.
CONAN: There are other approaches that people have tried. Indeed, NAFTA was seen by many as an attempt to address the issue of, well, if you improve the Mexican economy that's good for everybody and might reduce the inflow of immigration from Mexico.
SUSANNE: Well, what happened with NAFTA is the women being murdered on the maquilladoras on the border. So we didn't follow through, and I agree with some of the other speakers who said that Americans are basically addicted to cheap labor and cheap goods. And we need to stand up for democratic values; not economic values, but democratic values and the human rights issues.
CONAN: You were talking earlier, Caitlin, about political will. Do you sense the political will for the kinds of programs Susanne is talking about?
Ms. HARRINGTON: I think there is some. I think--it's interesting. I mean, there's just really--it's amazing how divided Washington is over the immigration issue. President Bush has met with Vincente Fox. I think he met with him shortly before September 11th, and--when he was really pushing this temporary worker program. Then it kind of fell off the agenda for a while when 9/11 happened and everyone got really concerned about security. And so the balance shifted. But...
SUSANNE: Security concerns are what actually concerns me. I think that we're hyping up security as an issue on the border by purchasing more enforcement agents and leading Americans to accept an increased militarization of their homeland. And that's not homeland security.
CONAN: Susanne, thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it.
SUSANNE: Thank you so much. Bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And, Caitlin Harrington, we thank you for your time today as well.
Ms. HARRINGTON: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Caitlin Harrington is a reporter for Congressional Quarterly, who covers homeland security. She joined us here in Studio 3A.
Coming up, Vice Admiral Thad Allen joins us.
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