New Tactics to Control Immigration Are Unveiled
By JULIA PRESTON
The New York Times
Published: February 23, 2008
Bush administration officials said Friday that they would begin using new technology to create a virtual fence along sections of the border with Mexico, and that construction had been completed on 302 miles of physical fence.
Further intensifying the crackdown on illegal immigration, the administration will unveil new rules in coming weeks requiring all federal contractors to participate in a system, known as E-Verify, to confirm the legal immigration status of their workers, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said at a joint news conference in Washington.
Next week, civil fines for employers who hire illegal immigrants will increase by 25 percent, the officials said. Current fines are $2,200 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for repeat offenses.
The Justice Department plans more aggressive prosecution of illegal immigrants and employers who hire them, adding about 50 federal prosecutors in border states, Mr. Mukasey said.
The administration is pushing ahead to extend fencing at the 2,000-mile Mexican border despite skepticism from many sides. Opponents of illegal immigration argue that the virtual fence technology is flawed and ineffective, while many officials and residents in border states say that real fences are expensive and block access to land and water for ranchers and farmers, but do little to stop illegal border crossers.
Administration officials have acknowledged that public doubts about President Bushs border enforcement policies contributed to the failure last year of a bill he backed that would have given legal status to illegal immigrants.
After a year of trial and error, Mr. Chertoff said, border authorities have approved and are ready to use a suite of surveillance equipment that has been called P-28, because it was tested along 28 miles of border near Tucson. The technology, manufactured on a $20 million contract by Boeing, includes ground sensors and cameras mounted on 90-foot-high towers that relay images directly to Border Patrol command centers and vehicles.
In tests last year, the system failed to consistently communicate images and location information to agents on the ground. But Mr. Chertoff said, Were convinced at this point all of the defects have either been cured or theyre so immaterial were prepared to take a credit from Boeing.
As part of a $2 billion investment in border enforcement projects over the next two years, the administration will also use up to 40 mobile ground radars and six unmanned aerial surveillance drones, Mr. Chertoff said.
Border Patrol agents, who now number 15,400, will increase to 18,000 by the end of the year, doubling the size of the force since Mr. Bush took office in 2001.
Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Mukasey said that a surprisingly effective recent initiative did not involve fencing at all.
In a few high-traffic border areas, federal prosecutors have started to bring charges misdemeanors, in most cases against all immigrants caught entering illegally, holding most in jail. Previously, illegal crossers who agreed to leave the country voluntarily were not prosecuted.
In Yuma, Ariz., where prosecutors brought 1,200 cases against illegal crossers in the last three months of last year, the number of immigrants caught crossing illegally dropped 70 percent in those months. In 45 days after the program started in Laredo, Tex., arrests of illegal crossers dropped 33 percent.
Officials believe that fewer arrests indicate that fewer immigrants are trying to cross.
The prosecutions had an unbelievable deterrent effect, Mr. Chertoff said.