Arizona Daily Star
November 15, 2008
Secretary Michael Chertoff of the Department of Homeland Security has plenty of ideas about how to move forward with border security efforts, but said Friday that he won't be the man to lead that effort.
"My plan is to go on Jan. 20," Chertoff said at a press conference at the University of Arizona. "I've had four good years here."
That means, as expected, there will be a new secretary of Homeland Security in the Barack Obama administration.
Chertoff said he'll be happy to work with his successor and issued an early warning to whoever is selected in the coming weeks:
"If there is a change in approach, if there is a lack of a commitment to continue what we are doing on border security, we could see ourselves surrendering many of the gains we made," said Chertoff, who spoke to the press before delivering a lecture to law students at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law.
But to about 75 protesters outside the building Friday morning, what Chertoff calls "gains" were characterized as major setbacks.
Holding signs that read "Walls don't work," "No human being is illegal," "Get the Chert-off" and "Chertoff respect the law, no Real ID," the mixture of UA students and Tucson non-students said they wanted to show their displeasure with the way Chertoff has handled border security issues. They booed him loudly as he exited his vehicle.
Chertoff's critics have been highly critical of his use of a waiver created in the 2005 Real ID Act that allows the Homeland Security secretary to bypass compliance with federal regulations for border fences and roads. Chertoff used the waiver on four occasions during his tenure, three of which were to move forward with fencing projects in Arizona.
"There are no checks and balances with DHS," said Charles Vernon, a UA law student who protested Friday. The use of the waivers, he said, "is blatantly unconstitutional."
Border fences were among the issues the outgoing secretary addressed during his press conference. Here are some excerpts:
On the progress toward constructing a total of 670 miles of pedestrian fences and vehicle barriers on the Southwest border:
As of Friday, about 378 miles have been completed, leaving 292 miles left to meet the goal that was originally supposed to be finished by the end of 2008. He said he expects there to be more than 600 miles completed or under construction by the time he leaves office.
He said 670 miles of fencing should be sufficient to secure the border. Nobody is talking about wanting to build more than 1,000 miles of fencing, he said.
"I'm not interested in building fence just to build fence. I'm only interested in building fence where fence actually adds tactical value."
On future plans for the virtual fences — communication towers with electronic surveillance and detection systems — along the border:
Chertoff said that the newest version of the virtual fence "works" at the prototype site and that money has been budgeted to bring it to the Tucson Sector next year. Work on virtual fences in Arizona was abruptly put on hold in August after Homeland Security failed to turn in plans in time to the Department of the Interior for land access. The nine towers put up in the $20 million "Project 28" test virtual fence are still up in the border area flanking Sasabe and being used, Chertoff said. That Boeing Co.-led project was delayed because of glitches.
He plans to recommend that his successor continue using the combination of physical fences and virtual fences.
"This has been proven to work. . . . We spent a lot of time working with the very, very experienced Border Patrol to design a system that would put the right assets in the right location. I think we've teed this up so the next group has a very, very good platform from which to move forward."
On "measurable and significant progress" made during his tenure toward securing the border:
"We've seen a number of metrics which point very strongly in the direction of getting control of the border," he said, pointing to a 17 percent decrease in apprehensions by the Border Patrol and a decrease in "entries" tracked by the agency. He also pointed to a Pew Hispanic Center study that estimated the number of illegal immigrants in the United States declined to 11.9 million in 2008 from 12.4 million in 2007. He believes that the decrease is an effect of enforcement, not the economy.
On the escalating drug-related violence south of the border in Mexico:
There have been no signs of sustained cross-border violence and no intelligence reports that suggest a spillover is imminent, he said. Nonetheless, Chertoff requested that Homeland Security agencies and local law enforcement agencies develop contingency plans. Actions to respond to any cartel violence that spilled across the border would include the deployment of special response teams, planes and helicopters and armored vehicles, he said.
On the need for an expanded guest worker program as part of comprehensive immigration reform:
"I'm hopeful that as Congress sees that we are capable and determined to live up to our commitment on the security side that Congress will be willing to entertain something on the temporary work side that in the end I think would be positive for the workers, positive for business and also, frankly, be a help to the Border Patrol."