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Published: Wednesday, 3/30/2005

Border security bluff

THE Bush Administration gave plenty of lip service to improving border security after the Sept. 11 attacks. But judging from a recent report on the surging population in the United States of illegal immigrants, federal resolve to cut illegal entry into the country was little more than a charade.

The reason the administration is willing to let the predicament of undocumented immigrants pouring across the nation's borders slide is political. Businesses who largely support the party in power benefit from illegal immigrants' cheap labor.

They "fill jobs no one else will," said one critic, and the demand for their cut-rate services keeps the supply coming.

So while some worry about lax border security in light of intelligence that suggests terrorists have considered using the borders to infiltrate the country, the White House proposes a significantly reduced budget plan to stem the problem. It might as well do nothing.

Over a four-year period ending last March the number of new immigrants arriving in the U.S. without proper identification shot up 23 percent. There were an estimated 8.4 million illegal immigrants in 2000.

In 2004, research shows an estimated 10.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. That equates to a net increase of roughly 485,000 a year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a private research group.

By far Mexicans made up the largest group of undocumented workers in the U.S. at about 5.9 million, or 57 percent of last year's estimate. Some 2.5 million others, or 24 percent of the March, 2004, estimate, are from other Latin American countries.

Advocates of greater spending for border security and immigration control say the ballooning figures of unauthorized immigrants in the country are astounding. Until budget priorities match national security priorities, little will change, they argue.

There was hope when the President signed the intelligence reorganization bill last year that called for hiring 2,000 more agents a year over five years. But his proposed 2006 budget allows for the hiring of only 210 border patrol agents.

As long as the political will is weak, the upward trend of illegal immigrants arriving in the country will continue, and America's borders will remain a security threat.



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