The Bush administration says it is taking effective steps to stem illegal immigration to the United States, but Congress must act to overhaul America's immigration system. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff delivered a speech urging comprehensive immigration reform.
Secretary Chertoff says Americans have every right to be concerned about the hundreds-of-thousands of illegal immigrants that stream across U.S. borders every year.
"The vast majority of people who come into this country illegally do so for benign reasons - they want to work," he said. "[But] There are certain segments that want to commit crimes, or even potentially commit terrorist acts. Illegal immigration has brought with it violence, trespassing and disturbance to our border communities. There has been an impact all across the country in [burdening] emergency rooms, hospitals and schools."
Responding to this concern, Chertoff says, the Bush administration has increased the number of border patrol agents, deployed advanced technology to monitor remote border areas, and mobilized National Guard units to aid in the task of border enforcement. In addition, the homeland security chief said the administration has augmented the ability of immigration agents to return illegal immigrants to their countries of origin, and boosted efforts to crack down on American businesses that hire illegal aliens.
But, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Chertoff said, more needs to be done. He said additional funding is required to further enhance border security, and that the United States must initiate a guest worker program to provide a secure, legal means for law-abiding foreigners to get work, and for American businesses to satisfy labor needs.
For this, he said legislative action is urgently needed.
"Congress has an opportunity and a responsibility to act this year to tackle this problem [of illegal immigration]. It has to be clear to everybody that we cannot allow this problem to continue to fester. If we do not address it comprehensively, it is not going to go away of its own accord. It will be here next year and the next decade, and decades afterwards," he said.
In recent months, President Bush repeatedly has called for comprehensive immigration reform. The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that closely mirrors an administration proposal to strengthen border enforcement, create a guest worker program, and provide a rigorous path for many undocumented workers to eventually gain legal status.
Late last year, however, the House of Representatives passed a bill that focuses on law enforcement to solve America's immigration dilemma. The bill would classify illegal immigrants as felons, and criminalize those who provide assistance to the country's undocumented population. Many representatives in President Bush's own Republican Party object to any measure that would allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country - a measure they regard as amnesty.
A bi-cameral conference is to attempt to reconcile the sharply divergent bills generated by the two chambers. But analysts are increasingly skeptical that Congress will pass final immigration reform legislation before November elections.