Recently published reports have focused on a letter submitted on March 1st by Congressman Darrel Issa to Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. Issa is the Californian Republican who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight. His letter demanded Napolitano address claims that the Border Patrol has been “cooking the books”--distorting the true number of undocumented immigrants who are apprehended along our nation's southwest border. Issa's letter to Napolitano was predicated on information that insiders at the DHS have purportedly provided to Issa's office.

These statistics are extremely important because they have not only been used by the administration to reflect on how secure our border is, but also used to support the contention that because arrests along the border are down, that the number of undocumented immigrants present in the United States is also down. 

This claim has a number of potential benefits for the administration, especially as the upcoming election looms closer on the horizon.

It used to be said that Social Security was the “Third Rail” of politics. Today you could say that immigration and border security constitutes the so-called “Third Rail,” and this third rail has lots of political juice running through it.  

Some Liberals have tried to demonize anyone who seeks to enforce the immigration laws and secure our borders while Republicans like to portray themselves as being tough on law violators and want to be perceived as being in favor of the “Rule of law.”

In order to win the upcoming election, current administration would like to be able to say that the immigration problem is correcting itself, thereby placating voters on both sides of the issue. By touting reduced arrest statistics, the administration could lay claim to securing our nation's borders and convincing everyone that immigration is no longer a problem. This would enable the president to be in two places at one time.

Clearly if the arrest statistics being reported are false, then all suppositions based on those doctored statistics would be false.  As the folks in the computer field would say, “Garbage in – Garbage out!”

However, as a former INS Special Agent, I have been more than a bit skeptical about the validity of using Border Patrol arrest statistics to determine how many undocumented immigrants are actually present in the United States. There is lots more to the immigration system than the Mexican border.

On December 21st I was a guest on Neil Cavuto's program on the Fox Business Network. Neil noted that it is believed that because of the economic situation in the United States that fewer undocumented immigrants were seeking to come to the United States to seek employment. I commented that “Attempting to determine how many illegal aliens are present in the United States by simply looking at arrest statistics were a bit like taking attendance and asking those not present to raise their hands.”

There is no definitive means of determining what percentage of undocumented immigrants are actually arrested and what percentage evade the Border Patrol. Additionally, undocumented immigrants do not only enter the United States by running our nation's border, that is supposed to separate the United States from Mexico

Our nation also has a border that separates the United States from Canada that is nearly twice as long as the U.S.-Mexican border.

Additionally, our nation has some 95,000 miles of coastline and seaports and marinas to be found all along that huge coastline.

While the extreme porosity of the U.S. borders creates a huge problem for the United States in terms of national security, crime and other factors to be associated with the lack of border security, it is estimated that some 40 percent of all undocumented immigrants in the United States did not run our nation's borders at all, but entered the United States through the inspections process and then, in one way or another, violated the terms of their admission into the United States.  

Still more aliens have been granted immigrant visas and work visas who committed fraud in order to game the system. This not only impacts national security but costs American workers jobs, especially in the high-tech fields.

On March 6, 2012 the Washington Post published an article entitled: “Illegal immigrants with long-expired visas remain tough to track 10 years after 9/11 attacks.” That report addressed how a would-be terrorist, Amine El Khalifi had been living illegally in the United States for more than a decade, an issue that became the basis for a hearing conducted by the House Homeland Security Committee.

“The criminal case against Amine El Khalifi, 29, of Alexandria, Va., has renewed the debate about how the U.S. government — a decade after the terror attacks of 2001 — routinely fails to track millions of foreign visitors who remain in the country longer than they are allowed,” the article reads.

“A House Homeland Security subcommittee is conducting an oversight hearing Tuesday. The panel’s chairwoman, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., said El Khalifi ‘follows a long line of terrorists, including several of the 9/11 hijackers, who overstayed their visa and went on to conduct terror attacks.’ His tourist visa expired the same year he arrived from his native Morocco as a teenager in 1999,” the piece continues.

This is not a newly discovered problem.  Nearly six years ago, on May 11, 2006, I testified before a Congressional hearing entitled “Visa Overstays: Can We Bar the Terrorist Door?” that was conducted by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations.

Finally, while so many politicians talk about the need to create jobs, just about no one talks about the need to liberate jobs by effectively enforcing our nation's immigration laws from within the United States.

The point is that by attempting to keep everyone's attention focused on the Mexican border, many of the other components of the immigration system are being ignored.

It is important and commendable that Rep. Issa continues to demand accountability where the DHS is concerned, but neither he nor anyone else should lose sight of the fact that where immigration is concerned, we are dealing with a system with many moving parts, and all are critically important.

Simply stated, our immigration laws are intended to save American lives and American jobs and no politician from either side of the aisle should lose sight of those two incredibly vital goals.

Michael Cutler is a retired Senior Special Agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. 

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Michael W. Cutler is a retired Senior Special Agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the federal immigration agency that preceded the Department of Homeland Security.  He has provided testimony to numerous Congressional hearings and the 9/11 Commission on the nexus between immigration and national security.

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