Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2004 / 14 Tishrei, 5764

Froma Harrop

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GOPers weak on security? | Republicans fancy themselves the national security party. They're the ones who are supposed to stop the bad guys from attacking us at home. Anyone who looks at the gaping security hole that we call the Mexican border knows these claims to be hot air.

You and I may have to present our picture IDs three times before someone will let us on a plane. But every year millions of people sneak across our southern border, no questions asked. And the illegal entrants are not all poor Mexicans in search of work. Local law enforcement is now finding people from the terrorism hot spots — Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran — tucked in among the masses. Some 190,000 illegals from countries other than Mexico have melted into the U.S. population this year alone, according to a superb Time magazine cover story about the insecure border.

But you can't get an honest word out of the Bush administration on the matter. The party line is that the nation can't do anything about poor foreigners determined to work in the United States. It's beyond our control.

And the administration does put on a good show at the border. The U.S. Border Patrol has a cast of 10,000 agents, who pursue millions of illegals trying to enter the country from Mexico. But the agents all know that it's a game they're not supposed to win.

The border is left unsecured by design. It is kept porous to allow illegal workers to flow in. For the Bush people, cheap labor trumps everything, including national security.

They show their hand whenever they open their mouth. Asa Hutchinson, the Homeland Security Department official in charge of the borders, recently made a splash when he said it was "not realistic" to arrest the millions of illegal aliens now residing in this country. Americans have "too much compassion," he explained, to round them up.

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It is a classic tactic of the cheap-labor crowd to present a fake set of remedies for what others, but not they, see as a problem. The real solution is not to round up illegal immigrants, but the employers who hire them.

The United States already has laws that slap penalties on employers who hire illegals. The Bush administration simply chooses not to enforce them. Consider this statistic: In all of 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (since folded into the Department of Homeland Security) fined a total of 13 employers for hiring illegals.

Remove the job magnet, and the numbers trying to crash the border would drop dramatically. Then the Border Patrol could concentrate its forces on terrorists.

If Bush really thought there weren't enough Americans to meet the nation's labor needs, then he would call for higher levels of legal immigration. Legal immigrants don't have to slink across the border. They can fly over it, for that matter, and present their papers at a U.S. Customs desk. But legal foreign workers aren't cheap enough for the Bush administration. Its business supporters demand a constant supply of underground labor.

Last January, Bush announced that the U.S. labor market was open for international business, and things have gotten crazier at the border ever since. The president unveiled a temporary-worker program that "will match willing foreign workers with willing American employers when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs."

The "beauty" of his program is that the aliens must show that they already have a job. In other words, only people working here illegally may qualify. Foreigners who wait in their home countries until they can enter lawfully need not apply.

This open invitation was not lost on the willing workers of the world, and the numbers trying to crash the gates have escalated, according to observers at the border. "All these people say they are coming for the amnesty program," an Arizona rancher told Time. "(They) have been told if they get 10 miles off the border, they are home free"

Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The mess at the border is their mess. And as long as they support policies meant to frustrate our immigration laws, Republicans have absolutely nothing on the Democrats when it comes to national security.

Froma Harrop is a columnist for The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.