WASHINGTON – Before the United States develops comprehensive immigration reform it must first enforce its current laws and secure the border,a former undersecretary for border and transportation security said Tuesday.
Asa Hutchinson,a former Republican congressman and undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security,argued that the American people must believe that the government will stop the flow of illegal immigrants before it considers alternatives,such as amnesty or a guest worker program.
“You need to focus on enforcement,” he said. “Once people have confidence in that,you can fully support to have legal status for that 12 million here.”
Hutchinson's advice comes at a time when 2008 presidential hopefuls are bombarded with questions and concerns over immigration on early stump speeches across the country.
He gave the keynote address before students and professors at the American University Washington College of Law for the school's “Holes in the Fence: Immigration Reform and Border Security in the United States” program.
Before he resigned from the department in 2005,for an unsuccessful run for governor in his home state of Arkansas,Hutchinson said he focused on deterring people from entering the country illegally. “I've never had a tougher job in my life,” he said.
Hutchinson said he wants the government to use biometric systems to record people's fingerprints so agents can check anyone coming over the border. He also wants an online system that employers could use to quickly check someone's legal status.
An illegal immigrant “takes these risks because he knows when he gets through he will get a job in the United States,” he said. “We need to change it so employers won't hire them.”
Hutchinson did manage to pull a laugh from the crowd when he mentioned his failed bid for governor. “Yes I ran as a Republican,yes I lost,” he said. “Here's some advice: don't run for office after you've overseen border security.”
But he said immigration reform will happen if the government balances “the rule of law” with “compassion.”
In an interview after his address,Hutchinson said governors fighting for immigration reform,such as Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano,D,would receive congressional support from both sides of the aisle. “There is bipartisan support regardless of the majority,” he added.
During a later panel on the Secure Fence Act of 2006,a law authorizing a wall in several places along the U.S.-Mexico border,activists on both sides of the issue lashed out against current immigration practices.
The law remains controversial because it requires the wall be built but doesn't allocate any money for it.
Mark Krikorian,the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies,said fencing may serve as an important first step but it's merely a political ploy.
“A spoonful of enforcement helps the amnesty go down,” he said.
Krikorian,whose think tank advocates stern immigration enforcement,said he would rather have the government slowly shrink the number of illegal immigrants than try to enact broad legislation.
“Real change is not something Congress can vote on,” he said. “The political elite has to have the will to enforce the law.”