WASHINGTON –Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday that, as the result of a previous Committee hearing, she had ordered the Department to devise a new system to assess border security more accurately.
Napolitano also defended her decision not to raise the nation’s threat level following the death of Osama bin Laden and confirmed that she had increased airport and border crossing personnel as a precaution against potential retaliation. She also revealed that the Department already was receiving and analyzing information culled from the cache of computers and thumb drives confiscated from bin Laden’s secret compound.
Against this dramatic backdrop, Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., convened the Committee’s third in a series of hearings this year to determine what border security means, how to improve on progress made, and, in the Chairman’s view, pave the way for comprehensive immigration reform. Napolitano said that she had ordered Custom and Border Protection (CBP) to devise new border security metrics based on questions she had received from Senators at a previous HSGAC meeting.
“As good as the recent news is about the death of Osama bin Laden, we know the war against Islamist terrorism is not over,” Lieberman said. “The enemy is still out there and will continue to try and attack us here at home. That’s why the security of our borders is so critical. A new standard for measuring border security that will be more accurate and effective will inform the debate and allow us to set achievable security goals. But I firmly believe that we will not be able to secure the border until we enact smart immigration reform that address the underlying reasons that most people come here illegally: to find employment, and reunite with family members. We still have a chance in this session to try and achieve this.”
Collins said: “The Director of the National Counterterrorism Center has said we can expect attempts at retaliation for the operation that took out Osama bin Laden. So, I wonder why the Department of Homeland Security is not increasing the threat level. Until a further assessment is conducted of the intelligence -- including a full exploitation of the information and data seized at the compound where Osama bin Laden was living -- it would be sensible to increase the threat level, at least for two weeks, and to acknowledge that we are in a situation where we are at risk. Given the fact that we are still assessing the seized materials and the reaction to bin Laden’s death, we are not taking what would be a prudent step.”
Although much of the hearing focused on the southern border, the Senators stressed that immigrants entering the country legally on a valid visa and then overstaying the terms of the visa must also be addressed. A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that 40 percent of undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S. came into this country legally and then over-stayed the terms of their visas. According to the 9/11 Commission, five of the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11 entered the U.S. legally and then intentionally overstayed their visas. GAO said that around 10 percent of the roughly 400 people convicted of terrorism-related crimes since September 11 were legal immigrants who overstayed their visas.
Witnesses at two previous hearings on this topic this year largely agreed that the situation along our border with Mexico has improved over the past decade. Statistics show that apprehensions of illegal aliens are down 73 percent since 2000, their lowest levels in three decades, and violent crime rates along the border have been declining for 10 years. But some residents and law enforcers in border states still feel insecure. As a result of questioning at a previous hearing about how the Department gauges security, the Secretary has moved to improve its measurements.