Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chertoff claims success but no victory yet

With the anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina fiasco looming on the horizon, Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff needed some good news. On Wednesday, Chertoff held a DHS press conference to announce the results thus far of the Secure Border Initiative.

Within the current context of the immigration reform debate, the "successes" serve to underline the seriousness of Chertoff's boss, President Bush, when many are claiming he has done little to secure the border. With an eye towards the November elections, the White House wants to be tough on border security without appearing anti-immigrant.

At the press conference, Chertoff discussed changing the policy of "catch and release". Besides being such a demeaning way to describe the treatment of human beings, the term "catch and release" in immigration terms (not fishing) refers to the policy of apprehending undocumented PEOPLE and then releasing them and requiring them to come back for a court date (which few of them do). Since Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have enough detention space to house these folks, this is the only feasible solution.

Chertoff claims to have changed the policy to "catch and remove" and as a result (he claims) the number of Mexicans and non-Mexicans crossing without immigration inspection has dropped dramatically. A journalist asked Chertoff if this is the logical result of the new policies or if immigrants are just crossing in more remote (and dangerous) places along the border. Chertoff responded "...To the extent people are being pushed to areas that are more remote, that in itself is good, because those are harder to cross, fewer people want to cross them. So that in itself is a positive development." He then went on to discuss a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about the border crossing getting harsher for less fit immigrants. "People are complaining it's tough to cross the border...But I thought that was a good news story, because as it gets harder, fewer will try to come." But how many more will die in trying to make it through the desert?

Chertoff also asked for Congress help in overturning a twenty-year old court order banning the deportation of Salvadorans back to their country. Stating that the civil war in El Salvador is over, Chertoff said "The reason for these restrictions has long disappeared. It would be as if we were still keeping in effect World War II rules that had long since passed their necessity." The official civil war may be over but death squads are returning and the US just signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement. More immigrants may soon be on the way.

When a journalist asked if the positive message of the press conference was aimed more at voters or at Congress, Chertoff replied "What it's aimed at is, first of all, telling the American people, you've given us resources, we've told you what we're doing... I'm being careful, though, not to say the struggle is over. I think we ought to be encouraged." (But does the 'we' refer to Americans or DHS?)

ACTION STEP: Call (202-282-8495) or e-mail the Department of Homeland Security and tell them that you do not think it is a successful policy to force desperate immigrants to cross in dangerous remote areas just to satisfy DHS statistics. Also ask Chertoff to drop the term "catch and release".