Securing Our Borders Under a Temporary Guest Worker Program


First, let me thank Chairman Chambliss and members of thesubcommittee for allowing the Cato Institute to testify at today'shearing on the important subject of border security and immigrationpolicy. No constitutional duty of the federal government is morefundamental than protecting the American people from attack fromenemies abroad.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress andthe administration have struggled to balance the need to secure ourborders with the need to remain a free economy open to the world.The challenge confronting members of this subcommittee today is howto keep out dangerous goods and people and the money that supportsthem without sacrificing the benefits of international trade,investment, travel and immigration.

Long-time opponents of immigration seized on September 11 toargue against legalization of Mexican migration, and in favor ofdrastic cuts in existing levels of legal immigration. But anyconnection between the September 11 attacks and illegal immigrationfrom Mexico is non-existent. None of the 19 hijackers entered thecountry illegally or as immigrants. They all arrived in the UnitedStates with valid temporary nonimmigrant tourist or student visas.None of them arrived via Mexico. None of them were Mexican. Sealingthe Mexican border with a three-tiered, 2,000-mile replica of theBerlin Wall patrolled by a division of U.S. troops would not havekept a single one of those terrorists out of the United States.

The problem is not too many immigrants. Immigrants who come tothe United States to work and eventually settle are but a smallsubset of the tens of millions of foreign-born people who enter theUnited States every year. In fact, on a typical day, more than 1million people enter the United States legally by land, air, andsea through more than 300 ports of entry. In a typical year, morethan 30 million individual foreign nationals enter the UnitedStates as tourists, business travelers, students, diplomats, andother temporary, nonimmigrant visa holders.[1] Of those, perhaps 1.3 million willeventually settle here as permanent immigrant residents. In otherwords, less than 5 percent of the foreigners who enter the UnitedStates each year intend to immigrate in any sense of the word. Therest plan to stay here only a short time.

Yet up until September 11, 2001, the overriding focus of ourborder security policy was to keep people out who might stay beyondtheir visa or enter illegally in search of employment. If yourecall, some of the September 11 hijackers were granted a visawithout even being interviewed by our consulate personnel. Why?Because they were deemed to be low risk for staying in the UnitedStates to seek employment.

Our focus, one might say our obsession, with keeping Mexicansfrom crossing our Southwester border illegally has not served ournational security interests. It has diverted resources andattention away from efforts to identify and keep out people whotruly intend to do us harm.

The Southwest border is not a frontline on the war on terrorism.First, Mexicans themselves are not a national security threat. NoMexican national to my knowledge has been connected with Al Qaedaor any other international terrorist network. Mexicans almostuniversally come here to work. Second, international terroristshave not viewed the Southwestern border as a preferred means ofentry. The Canadian border is more attractive. It's twice as long,with far fewer border patrol personnel per mile. Middle Easternnationals tend to stand out more in Mexican society than inCanadian society or at a typical international airport. Recall thatit was at a port of entry at the Washington state/British Columbiaborder in 1999 that U.S agents apprehended Ahmed Ressam, one of theso-called millennium bombers.

Why would potential terrorists incur the risks of sneakingacross our Southwest border when other doors are more attractive? Aspecial investigation by the Associated Press last November foundthat not a single terrorist suspect had been arrested trying toenter the United States across the Mexican border since theSeptember 11 terrorist attacks. As border patrol agent Matt Roggowtold the AP, "The people who are coming across [the Mexican] borderare people who can only pay $1,500 to a smuggler. A terrorist canpay $30,000 or $40,000 and go to the northern border where we don'thave the resources to stop them."[2]

While we were guarding the back door in 2001 to make sure noMexican immigrants entered our country illegally, we wereneglecting the far larger barn door of temporary non-immigrantvisas through which all the September 11 hijackers entered.

Most members of Congress understand that willing workers fromMexico are not a threat to America's national security. In May2002, Congress overwhelmingly approved and President Bush signedthe Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. Wedon't say this very often at the Cato Institute, but that was agood piece of legislation. The bill was aimed at the right target -keeping terrorists out of the United States. Among its majorprovisions, the law:

Requires federal intelligence and law-enforcement agencies toshare data on suspected terrorists in a timely manner with the INSand the State Department;

Establishes a uniform database that can be accessed by consulateofficials and border agents;

Requires that all travel and entry documents issued to aliens bemachine-readable and tamper-resistant and include biometricidentifiers;

Requires the advance forwarding of passenger manifests for allincoming commercial vessels and aircraft;

Bars issuance of nonimmigrant visas to aliens from countriesthat sponsor terrorism, unless approved by the Secretary of State;and

Requires U.S. colleges and universities to report the arrival,enrollment, and departure of foreign students.[3]

All these are common-sense provisions that, in hindsight, shouldhave been in place long before 9-11. Notably absent from the billwere any provisions rolling back levels of legal immigration orbolstering efforts to curb undocumented migration from Mexico.

Members of Congress rightly understood, when crafting thelegislation, that Mexican migration is not a threat to nationalsecurity.

Indeed, legalizing and regularizing the movement of workersacross the U.S.-Mexican border could enhance our national securityby bringing much of the underground labor market into the open,encouraging newly documented workers to cooperate fully with lawenforcement officials, and freeing resources for border securityand the war on terrorism.

Real immigration reform would drain a large part of theunderground swamp that facilitates illegal immigration. It wouldreduce the demand for fraudulent documents, which in turn wouldreduce the supply available for terrorists trying to operatesurreptitiously inside the United States. It would eliminate mostof the human smuggling operations overnight. The vast majority ofMexican workers who enter the United States have no criminal recordor intentions. They would obviously prefer to enter the country ina safe, orderly, legal process through an official port of entry,rather than put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers.By entering legally through a temporary worker program, they couldtravel freely across the border for multiple visits home ratherthan incurring the risk and expense of re-crossing the borderillegally. As a consequence, legalization would drain theunderground channels through which terrorists might try to enterthe country.

Just as importantly, legalization would encourage millions ofcurrently undocumented workers to make themselves known toauthorities by registering with the government, reducing cover forterrorists who manage to enter the country and overstay theirvisas. Workers with legal documents would be more inclined tocooperate with law enforcement and provide evidence if they do notfear deportation. Furthermore, we would free up enforcement andborder-control resources to focus on protecting the Americanhomeland from terrorist attack. Our Department of Homeland Securityshould concentrate its limited resources and personnel on trackingand hunting down terrorists instead of raiding chicken processingplants and busting janitors at discount stores.

Congress should respond to the leadership shown by PresidentBush and reform our dysfunctional immigration system. We need tocreate a legal channel for peaceful, hardworking people to enterour country temporarily - and to legalize those workers alreadyhere - so they can fill a whole range of jobs where the supply ofdomestic workers falls short of demand. Immigration reform wouldhelp our economy grow, it would reduce illegal immigration, and itwould enhance the federal government's ability to wage war onterrorism.

Thank you.

[1]U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of HomelandSecurity, "Monthly Statistical Report" and Yearbook ofImmigration Statistics.

[2]AssociatedPress, "No terror suspects nabbed on border: But death toll risingamong migrants along Mexican frontier," November 3, 2003.

[3]See EnhancedBorder Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, Public Law No:107-173.

Daniel Griswold

Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship
United States Senate