Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary on ICE and CBP 2006 Fiscal Year Enforcement Numbers

MR. CHERTOFF: I see we have a full house today. Well, as you can see, I'm up here with Assistant Secretary Myers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Chief Aguilar of the Border Patrol.

We are now about a month out after the close of the fiscal year 2006. And as you know, I have periodically appeared before you and before the American public here with the Chief and other officials of the Department to report on where we are with respect to our comprehensive strategy of securing the border. And since we have completed a fiscal year, it seems like a good time to go back and look over what has been achieved in the last year and also get a sense of the direction in which we're moving.

As I've said in the past, the challenge of controlling the border is one that has been with us for 30 years. This is not a problem that's new, and it's therefore not a problem that's going to be solved in 30 minutes or in 30 days.

But what is important is to put into place a strategy that if consistently followed will put us on a course that will get us security at the border. That's what the public has a right to expect. It's one of the fundamental obligations we have as a government in terms of securing our country, and it is an objective toward which we have made some substantial progress over the last year, although much more remains to be done.

The strategy that we follow, of course, has to be comprehensive. It has to involve additional forces and additional infrastructure at the border itself to limit and ultimately deter people from trying to cross. It has to have a vigorous internal enforcement component, because most of the people who cross are doing so in order to work inside the United States, and, therefore, we have to make sure we are vigorously enforcing the laws against employing people who are not here properly documented.

And finally, we have to recognize the tremendous economic engine that draws the vast majority of illegal migrants into the United States. And that economic engine is jobs. That's why the President has advocated and we've been pursuing a comprehensive strategy that does have as one component a temporary worker program, a program that would allow us to bring economic migrants into the country in a way that is regulated, that identifies who they are, that monitors where they are, and that has a secure form of identification.

This kind of totally comprehensive strategy is what is required if we are going to solve this problem that's plagued the country for decades once and for all.

Now all of the elements of this strategy have not yet of course been implemented. Congress is still considering a temporary worker program. But we have an obligation to enforce the law with the tools that we have, and as long as we have those tools, we're going to use them to the fullest extent.

So I'd like to talk about what we've done over the last year. Last November, we announced the kickoff of a Secure Border Initiative, recognizing that we needed to look at all of the elements of the strategy I've outlined. And over the course of the fiscal year since November, we have systematically begun to implement all of the elements of the strategy that the law currently allows us to use.

That means adding agents to the border so we have more boots on the ground. It means building tactical infrastructure, lighting, fencing, vehicle barriers, other kinds of physical impediments to illegal migrants. It meant putting together the request for proposal and putting out the contract for SBInet, a 21st century technologically based virtual fence that will bring all of the tools that we have used around the world in the interest of security to our border so that we can get the benefit of high technology in getting control over this illegal migration.

It also involved ending a practice called catch and release, under which a very substantial number of illegal migrants of non-Mexican origin who were caught crossing the border were simply released into the community because we didn't have the ability to return them quickly, and because we didn't have the beds to detain them.

And finally, we talked about a vigorous interior enforcement strategy that would complement what we are doing at the borders.

So, what I am here to talk about today is what we have achieved in each of these significant areas of activity and these significant elements of our strategy.

First, let me say that we have made very substantial process with respect to hiring border patrol agents. Our target was to hire 1,500 new border patrol agents and deploy them during fiscal year 2006. We actually exceeded that. We had 1,532 who graduated and were deployed to enhance our border patrol boots on the ground at the border in the south of the border and the north.

That brings us up currently as of the end of the fiscal year to 12,349 border patrol, a very dramatic increase from the somewhere between nine and ten thousand that were present on the border when the President took office.

We've also, of course, put out SBInet. Again, it was very ambitious contract. When we indicated that we were going to make the award by the end of the fiscal year, there were people who said it couldn't be done. But we have done it. And, therefore, we are on track to begin the deployment of SBInet starting with completion of a 28-mile sector in Arizona as the first element of what will ultimately be a virtual fence across the entire border of the United States.

Let me talk about what the impact of this has been, because, obviously, what we're interested in here is not merely the additional input, but the results, what kind of results have we gotten.

Well, because of the additional border patrol, because of the additional infrastructure, and because the President this May directed the National Guard to get to the border through Operation Jump Start, which was designed to fill that personnel gap on an expedited basis as we continue to hire and train more and more border patrol, we have begun to see for the first time a significant turnaround in terms of the number of illegals that we are finding crossing the border.

If you look at the first chart at my extreme right, you're going to see that what we have done is we have measured quarter to quarter the number of apprehensions of total Mexican and non-Mexican that we've made in the southern border, third quarter and fourth quarter, to see whether our increased personnel measures and other measures have in fact made a difference.

And what you will see is for the first time in years, we have seen a decrease in the number of apprehensions third quarter and fourth quarter, which reflect the periods of time since we really began to implement SBInet and since Operation Jump Start and the National Guard deployment came into effect.

In the third quarter, if you look at April-June of 2006, we had a 13 percent decrease as compared with the third quarter in 2005. And if you look at the fourth quarter, which is the period of time after the National Guard became fully deployed under Jump Start, you will see a 38 percent decrease as compared with the fourth quarter in 2005.

One of the reasons, of course, we compare quarter to quarter is it takes account of the fact that there are some seasonal factors that apply at various points in the year, and we wanted to make sure we were measuring apples to apples.

This is I think a very significant measure of progress with respect to deterrence as we have put more boots on the ground. Now I want to emphasize, we're not done. The battle is not won. This is merely a reversal of the trend, and it shows the momentum is beginning to move in the right direction. But we still have some considerable distance to travel, and, therefore, we have to continue to press the accelerator to make sure we are doing everything we can to secure the border at the border.

Another way to look at this is to look at trends over the entire year. And if you look at this chart over here, Total Apprehensions FY02 to FY06, what you will see is, particularly since we have put into effect the measures in SBInet, starting in the middle of fiscal year 2006, for the first time, seasonally adjusted, you see the number of apprehensions dropping below what they have been in the prior years.

Every other year saw a net increase in the number of apprehensions and a net increase in the number of people coming across. Only since SBInet have we begun to see the direction move toward fewer apprehensions and fewer crossings.

Now one thing I should point out as we look at other indicators as well as apprehensions, we look, for example, at what is going on south of the border in terms of staging areas. We look at third-party indicators like are we getting a lot of complaints about crime at the border committed by non -- by outside migrants? And how are the reports of criminal activity as compared year-to-year?

And as the Chief will explain, these third-party indicators also validate what we are seeing in these statistics, which is the beginning of a reversal of the trend and a movement toward fewer incursions by illegal migrants.

Now, of course, as I said, part of this is boots on the ground, whether it be border patrol or whether it be National Guard. But another critical part of this is what do we do with people once we catch them. Common sense is going to tell you, if you catch someone and you release them, you haven't accomplished anything.

For years, we had a problem with non-Mexicans, because we simply -- we couldn't simply put them back across the border into Mexico. We had to return them to their home countries. That took months to do in some cases. We needed to house them while we were going through the process of returning them. We didn't have enough beds to house them, and they wound up getting released.

The consequence of this was that the smugglers came to understand very quickly that if you were a non-Mexican and you got across the border into the U.S., all you had to do was turn yourself into the border patrol, because you would be booked, and then you'd be released on bail, and the vast majority of those people never turned up for trial.

Not only did that demoralize and undercut the hard work of the border patrol agents, but what it also did is it created a perverse incentive to actually encourage migrants from countries other than Mexico to sneak into the country because they believed once they got across the border they were home free.

This pernicious policy of catch and release was identified to me soon after I came on as probably one of the most demoralizing and irritating things to the members of the border patrol and to the communities, particularly in the border states, who felt frustrated by the fact that people were being caught and turned free.

And so, when we unveiled SBInet late in calendar year 2005, one of the things we committed to do was end catch and release by the end of fiscal year 2006. And here I have to tell you that we actually beat our promise. We did better than we promised, because we ended catch and release two months before the end of the fiscal year.

If you look at the chart which is second from the end on the right, you will see that in the summer of 2005, we were releasing approximately 80 percent of non-Mexicans we were catching coming across the southern border. And as we put the change in catch and release into effect and moved to what we call catch and return, you began to see some dropping in that number of releases.

Now how did we do that? Well, we did it first of all by acquiring more beds so we had more space to detain people. The second thing we did is we acted to dramatically decrease the amount of time it took to return non-Mexicans to their native countries. First that required a legal change. And so I ordered that we put into effect all along the southern border and then the northern border a policy called Expedited Removal, which allows us to remove our illegal migrants without having to go through the process of a full-blown court proceeding.

By having Expedited Removal and by cutting the bureaucratic time it took to process people, we shrunk the amount of time it took to send the migrant back by as much as a half to even two-thirds. That meant we could turn the beds over more quickly, which meant would could start to detain a larger and larger percentage of illegal migrants not from Mexico when we caught them coming across the border.

But that's not the full picture. Because the real good message here is deterrence. As illegal migrants began to see that if they weren't from Mexico that they wouldn't simply be released, we started to have a deterrent effect on their willingness to come and try to cross the border.

And because of that deterrent effect, coupled with Expedited Removal and our expediting the procedures for returning people, you began to see that very significant drop-off starting in the summer of '06 and then gradually decline to a level of zero releases in August of '06.

The last piece of this, of course, dealt with one population that we had some difficulty applying Expedited Removal to, which was people from El Salvador, because we were laboring under this court injunction called Orantes that restricted our ability in terms of what we could to do remove El Salvadorans. But there again, increased use of beds, use of criminal law enforcement tools under Operation Streamline, and ultimately a little bit of relief from the court, gave us the ability to get to 100 percent catch, detain and return even for those from El Salvador.

Now, again, let's look at the deterrent effect from another standpoint. If you look at the chart all the way to the right, you see we've looked at third and fourth quarter comparisons for apprehensions of non-Mexicans.

And there you see a very dramatic change, roughly a 48 percent drop for the third quarter in terms of apprehensions by border patrol of non-Mexicans, and then down to 68 percent drop for the fourth quarter. That's consistent with the figure you see there. As we move to catch and return, it actually became easier, because we had fewer people trying to cross the border.

The proof of the pudding is that this is -- this illegal smuggling business is sensitive to tough enforcement, and that's both a good message, but it also is a reminder that we cannot afford to let up. We've got to view these figures as positive developments, but by no means an opportunity to say we've achieved the result we want. It rather should inspire us to continue to move forward in terms of what we're doing.

Let me turn to a couple of other important elements of the strategy before I turn it over to the Chief and to Assistant Secretary Myers.

As I said, part of the vigorous enforcement has to occur not just at the border but at the interior as well. And so, a critical element of what we talked about with SBI was vigorous interior enforcement.

The fact of the matter is, that to really enforce the rule in the interior, it's not enough to simply give the equivalent of corporate parking tickets to people who violate the law by hiring illegal aliens. You've got to use the kind of tools we traditionally use against lawbreakers, which means criminal cases, including jail sentences and fines. That is the way you get the attention of people who are systematic and persistent violators of the law.

And so what we have done is we have made as a priority targeting those businesses in the United States that systematically and willingly violate the law against hiring illegal migrants. And the figures demonstrate the change in emphasis.

If you go back to fiscal year 1999, there were 24 arrests or criminal cases brought for worksite enforcement violations. In fiscal year 2002, it was 25. But this past fiscal year, 2006, there were 716 criminal arrests and charges brought against employers for illegally and systematically violating the laws against employing illegal migrants. That is a very, very significant increase and reflects a dramatic change in strategy.

What we will continue to do is to target those employers who willfully violate the law and who build businesses upon a model of behavior that assumes they will hire large numbers of illegal migrants to fill jobs in this country.

The fact that we have a law here requires that enforce the law. And although people will squawk about it, the answer to those squawks is to go ahead and finish the job of a comprehensive strategy and pass a temporary worker program. The answer to the complaints is not to simply turn our backs on violations of the law. So this kind of tough enforcement, again, is part of this comprehensive strategy.

Now that is a promising report for the fiscal year 2006, but it is not, as I've said, the end of the road. It is merely I think a basis to encourage us to continue to move forward on all elements of the strategy.

So what do we have left to do? Well, as you know, the President has committed us to hiring and putting into the field over 18,000 border patrol by the end of 2008. That will result in more than a doubling of the border patrol boots on the ground as compared with the number when the President came into office.

We are looking to the first completed stretch of SBInet, a 28-mile sector in Arizona, in the next eight months. We're looking to building more fencing. We're looking to building more roads. We're looking to deploying more high technology all across the border.

We will continue to enforce the law with respect to interior enforcement by using tough measures, including criminal measures, to make sure that people are not systematically violating the rules regarding the employment of illegal migrants.

Finally, before I turn it over to Chief Aguilar, let me talk about a couple of anecdotal elements that characterize our success over the last year. Obviously, the illegal migrants who we most worry about are those who are coming to the country not to work but to commit crimes or even acts of terror. And that's why our emphasis throughout has been on focusing on those illegal migrants who are coming to the country to participate in criminal gangs or who are involved in supporting illegal narcotics activity.

In this respect, I want to take a moment to praise the very fine work of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who've worked very hard as part of Operation Community Shield to round up violent gang members nationwide and thereby make a major contribution to protecting the citizens of our cities and towns against illegal gang members who commit acts of violence and other criminal violations.

In fiscal year 2006, through Operation Community Shield, ICE agents arrested 2,290 violent gang members nationwide. And since this program began in February of 2005, we've had approximately 3,700 arrested total. Many of these weren't getting deported. Others, if they've committed criminal acts in this country, served their jail sentences first. The good news, though, is this means 3,700 gang bangers are off the streets and not there to prey on members of our communities.

And then also in the last year we had a couple of very significant sentences. Two 30-year sentences given to the Rodriguez brothers in September, and $2 billion in forfeitures reflecting the final blow to the infamous Cali Cartel, drug smuggling cartel in Colombia.

This pair of sentences culminates 140 convictions, again, through the very hard work of ICE agents and others in the federal government, targeting a cartel which at its height was one of the most notorious international criminal organizations in the history of the world.

These kinds of successes, different obviously than what we're doing with respect to just regular illegal migrants, underscore the importance of viewing what we do to protect our borders as part of a comprehensive solution, one that allows us to target the worst of the worst so that we can make sure we are giving the American public the maximum protection that they are entitled to expect from the United States authorities.

So, with that, I'm going to turn it over to Chief Aguilar, who will expand a little bit.

CHIEF AGUILAR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I will add just a little bit of detail to what the Secretary covered here just a minute ago.

First of all, I think that it's important to say that the purpose of this media event this morning is to give the status or state of the border as it is today. But I think one of the very critical things that we -- that I need to point out is the momentum that we -- momentum and energy that we have gained, especially over the last six, seven months.

And by that I mean the following. The OTM apprehensions that the Secretary pointed out over there, if you were to extrapolate that over to the first month of fiscal year '07, the actual drop continues to be 61 percent drop in the number of apprehensions of OTMs apprehended for this month. So, again, the drop continues.

Over on the Southwest border apprehensions, it continues to drop down another 27 percent. So the momentum keeps going. Now what got us to this situation? As the Secretary pointed out, a couple of things that were very critical to the border patrol from a line enforcement perspective.

And when I talk about the line enforcement perspective, I also want to acknowledge Assistant Commissioner Jason Ahearn, who is responsible for the ports of entry. So between the both of us, we represent the whole border. His people inspect over 450 million people a year coming between the ports of entry.

So it is a tremendous responsibility that our -- that we have jointly and our inspectors and our agents have out there.

Now the going forth with Expedited Removal was a tremendous impact. When it went forth from an operational perspective, it immediately gave us a force multiplier effect. Because the apprehension of an OTM basically was taking us for processing purposes upwards of four, five, six hours at a time sometimes.

Implementation of ER reduced that, reduced that to sometimes 15 to 45 minutes. Force multiplier effect when you take a look at these numbers, tremendous.

The implementation of the interior repatriation program, where we removed over 15,000 Mexican illegal aliens into the interior of Mexico to again reduce the recidivism back into this country, reduced it tremendously. Again, another force multiplier.

The implementation of Operation Jump Start on June 15th of this past year. When the President announced it on May 15th, a month prior, we immediately saw the effects. But the actual boots on the ground of Operation Jump Start, personnel on the ground was tremendous. Literally overnight, we were able expand our operations along our nation's Southwest border with Mexico a little over 330 miles. Three hundred and thirty miles that we actually placed eyes and ears on the border where we didn't have that capability before.

Operation Jump Start is an interim bridge towards our continued buildup of personnel, the 18,000 border patrol agents that the Secretary spoke about, the implementation of additional technology and tactical infrastructure. And very importantly, the SBInet initiative which will integrate all of those together.

It's important I think also to point out what our partnerships not only with domestic law enforcement agencies have done for us but also foreign law enforcement agencies. As an example, I will point out the OASISS program, where we are working jointly with the government of Mexico to prosecute last year over 300 prosecutions of criminal aliens involved in human smuggling, alien trafficking, that for one reason or another could not be handled by the federal court system here in the U.S. but did meet and could be prosecuted by Mexican prosecutors. Again, a tremendous effort and a tremendous partnership.

Domestic law enforcement efforts. Task forces, the BEST. One of the things that Assistant Secretary Myers will be speaking about that we have now initiated in several locations along the border with Mexico. The partnerships with the local sheriffs, with the local PDs to again federate our efforts towards the border have made a tremendous difference.

Border violence task forces that we have initiated, as you all will remember, in Laredo and in San Diego, we were having a tremendous problem because of the increased levels of violence against our border patrol agents. The very simple reason for that increase in violence was because we are taking back the border.

The criminal organizations are reluctant to give up the border that they have a sense that they own. So, therefore, the violence increases against our officers. But we have worked jointly with our Mexican law enforcement partners, and that violence is starting to come down against our officers.

The implementation of new technology. We flipped the switch literally on 14 new camera sites in San Diego. Fourteen new camera sites that, along with Operation Jump Start, tremendously expanded our capabilities in an area that has seen -- and we acknowledge this -- a certain shift of the criminal organizations attempting to come back to San Diego. The numbers are small. The percentages are small.

But the important part of this is between the technology, the personnel, Operation Jump Start and the continued growth that we've got out there, it better equips the agents and the chief out there to receive the shift in the criminal organizations attempting to come back. They will not be able to come back through San Diego.

The Yuma sector, a very active sector, has literally doubled in size over the last year, year-and-a-half. It went from approximately 300 officers to now well over 730 officers, and continuing to grow.

The implementation of the unmanned aerial systems, the one that we had flying, did crash last year. Today as we speak, the Commissioner is in Tucson announcing the implementation of a new UAV that will commence flying very, very shortly, within a week or two. We also anticipate and are shooting for launching a total of four, not additional, but a total of four, by the end of calendar year '08, UAVs, as we progress and move forward.

And the last thing I will point out is the total number of prosecutions conducted by our true partners out there, the U.S. Attorneys, over 42,000 prosecutions by the U.S. Attorneys in support of border enforcement. This does not include what Assistant Secretary Myers will be speaking about. These are prosecutions focused on impacting on border enforcement activities.

Now the only other thing I will close out with is that all of these things put together have resulted in this momentum and this energy. The one very critical thing that I want you to understand is that this momentum and this energy has internally created a tremendous force multiplier. Those agents that are out there today, because of this decrease in activity, are now able to expand their efforts even greater.

Thank you.

MS. MYERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary and Chief Aguilar. It's my pleasure to talk about ICE's role in the great momentum that is building within the Department to rethink the way we're handling immigration enforcement, to rethink what we're doing in terms of getting control of the borders better.

Truly the year 2006 was really a historical year for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and I think one of the main reasons that it was such a good year for us was really because of the men and women of ICE who kind of in the field, day-to-day, look to see how can we improve the processes. What are things that we can transform in the way we're doing, in order to make sure that if we apprehend an alien, we send him home sooner.

In that regard, I'm pleased to be joined here today by Marcie Foreman, our Director of Investigations, and John Torres, our head of the Office of Detention and Removal Operations.

In terms of our success this year, certainly ending the practice of catch and release was really one of our great achievements that ICE was able to do working with the Department and the Secure Border Initiative.

And as the Secretary mentioned, there were several things that really fed into our ability to do that. The first was thinking about new immigration tools, such as expanding the use of Expedited Removal, a judicial removal in some instances.

The second is looking at the bed space that we have and making sure we're using it as efficiently as possible. One thing that we established in the middle of this year is called the Detention Operations Coordination Center, or the DOC. And that makes sure that we use all the bed space we have around the country the most efficiently. It does us no good if we apprehend some aliens in Laredo but we have beds up in Rhode Island. And so our DOC makes sure that we use all the bed space that we have the most efficiently, and to date, that's made some great improvements.

In fact, our work on ending catch and release together with the Department, has allowed us to set a new record for alien removals. Last year in fiscal year 2006, we removed over 186,000 aliens, and that's a record for ICE. And we did that due to the great partnership in the Department and the way we are rethinking what we do with detention and removal.

As the Secretary also noted, we're also changing the way we think about worksite enforcement. We look to what didn't work in the old INS days, and we saw where can we change, where can we reinvent, what new kinds of criminal charges can we bring. And we're showing great results there.

Our criminal arrests in 2006 jumped to more than 700. In contrast -- of course, there were only 25 criminal arrests in 2002. We also saw large increases in our administrative apprehensions, reaching more than 3,600 administrative apprehensions of aliens in 2006 compared to just 485 back in 2002.

As the Secretary noted, we believe that criminally charging egregious employers with all the criminal tools available to us, as well as going after their assets, and criminally charging aliens where appropriate, will really create the kind of deterrence that we found was missing from previous worksite enforcement efforts.

We also realized that document fraud is a huge problem. There are often times employers that want to do the right thing, but sometimes they're even tricked by employees who bring in fake documents. So together, working with the Department of Justice, over the past year, we launched 11 document and benefit task forces throughout the United States. They're already producing great results.

Indeed, we've had over 185 convictions -- excuse me, arrests, and over 80 convictions. And our work in this area has led this past summer to the arrest of Pedro Castorena, one of the largest dealers in fraudulent documents. He kind of operated a McDonald's, a franchise of fraudulent documents.

And as always, at ICE, we're looking to see how can we bring in the financial authorities? How can we combine our immigration authorities with our financial authorities? And we've seen some great results there. In fact, the amount of assets we've seized has gone from really zero before the creation of ICE to 20 million in 2004 to nearly 42 million in 2006.

I must also note that our work obviously goes far beyond our work in the immigration arena. And last year one of the areas that we really focused on and highlighted on was the national security arena, and that is the export of sensitive technologies to terrorists in rogue nations. And we really did a threat assessment, beefed up our offices, and as a result, we saw a huge increase, an 81 percent increase in indictments in these cases. And I think that really goes to the tremendous work of our agents in the field on these very difficult cases.

Finally, I would note that our operational achievements over the past year have really been complemented by some achievements on the managerial side. We're a very new agency, and we've had some difficulty with financial management integrity in the past. We've beefed up our efforts there, implemented a three-year financial action plan, and also spent a lot of time on developing initiatives that will build an ICE culture.

Together, I believe we're building a strong ICE and we have the great men and women of ICE to thank for that.

Thank you.

MR. CHERTOFF: Before we take some questions, I just want to compliment Chief Aguilar and Assistant Secretary Myers and Assistant Commissioner Ahearn and Marcie Foreman and John Torres and all the other senior leadership of the agencies. What they've demonstrated in the last year is an ability to work together as a team, to plan and to execute as a single force that if you've listened to the presentations here show how we really make a force multiplier in having all these elements brought together in a comprehensive approach.

This is a system, illegal migration, and it requires a systemic approach in which you have to use all the tools available to attack the system from every standpoint in order to have results. And I think you're seeing the beginning of the achievements that this kind of approach can take.

We've got a lot more work to do. The message here is not time to celebrate we've done the job, but rather we ought to be encouraged but even more determined to get the job completed.

And now I'll take some questions. Yes?

QUESTION: Did you make any progress in removing the illegal Chinese? There are more than 40,000 illegal Chinese people still here. And did you make any progress? And how many percentage of the 186,000 people are Chinese?

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, I will tell you we've made some progress but we have not made as much progress as I would like to see us make. We did have a charter, and were able to move a significant number, several hundred Chinese illegal migrants out. But we need to work with the Chinese government to make this process quicker or smoother than it's been.

And so I would say that we are -- we've had some positive signs, but there's also a little bit of disappointment as well.

QUESTION: Have you received a lot of resistance on the part of the Chinese government from accepting illegals back into their country?

MR. CHERTOFF: I think sometimes we face the challenge of not so much deliberate resistance but the process by means of which they validate whether someone is really Chinese is a very time consuming process and apparently requires them to go back to the original town of birth and look at individual records that adds a huge amount of delay to the process.

We've got to figure out a way to crack this, because it's in everybody's interest to get the law enforced expeditiously. And I look forward in the next short period of time to talking to our Chinese counterparts about what we need to do to get this to move much more quickly.

I think the public expects that every country take the responsibility it's obliged to take under international law of accepting its illegal migrants back.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, given that there are estimates of more than 10 million people living and working here illegally, is it really fair to call your figure of 716 criminal penalties against employers vigorous internal enforcement?

MR. CHERTOFF: It is, because we're talking about, first of all, the worst of the worst, those who build businesses upon employing illegal migrants. And second, we're counting on deterrent effect.

The message we're sending to the community of people who build a business based upon hiring illegal migrants is, if we catch you, you're not just going to get a parking ticket or an administrative fine of a couple hundred bucks. You might wind up going to jail.

And my experience in looking at corporate criminal behavior over the years that deterrence actually has a very significant impact on the corporate community.

Now, you know, one swallow does not a summer make, and the fact that we've done a lot this year doesn't mean we've totally turned the situation around. But I will tell you that continued vigorous enforcement with hundreds of criminal cases is starting to have an impact on business behavior.

One of the ways you know is you're starting to see a lot of complaints about it, and businesses are complaining that we're too tough and it's getting hard. And that's usually a sign to me that we're on the right track.

But I come back to the point I made originally. At the end of the day, to really solve the problem in a permanent way, we're going to need to have a comprehensive program. We're going to need to address this need for workers that is being answered by businesses using illegal workers. And so along with a big stick, I think we've also got to create a pathway to compliance with the law that would be reasonable and give employers a way to do the right thing.


QUESTION: I'm curious about how these various statistics measure up to success. If a drop in apprehensions at the border is a good thing, why is it also a good thing to have a record of illegal aliens deported from presumably the center of the country? And also why is it a good thing to have an increase, say, in seized marijuana? Might that not indicate that the war on drugs is not working rather than working well?

MR. CHERTOFF: Good question. When we're talking about removals from the interior, these are people who've already made it in. Once they're in, obviously we want to get as many of them out as possible. So it's good to have a high number of removals.

What we ideally would like to do is stop them from coming in in the first place. So to the extent that we see fewer crossing the border, that suggests that line of defense is working. But we also have to remember that we've got 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, and that means that we want to get as many of them out as we can, subject obviously to changes in the law. So, those are actually consistent.

In terms of seizures in marijuana, you know, the drug trade has been around as long as I've been adult and longer. A lot of it's imported. The pathways through which drugs are imported tend to be somewhat different than for illegal migrants. But there's no question that we have not succeeded in obviously preventing the importation of all illegal drugs.

But there again, once the drugs are in the country, the more of them that we can seize, the better off we are. Ideally at the end of the day we want to deter -- do such a good job at the border that we deter illegal drug smuggling. I suspect as we raise the barrier on illegal migrants, we're actually going to have a positive impact on the drug smuggling as well.

But no one should underestimate the challenge of this, because as long as I've been an adult, and as long as I've been involved in law enforcement, we have been dealing with illegal drug activity, and it has proven to be a tough nut to crack. But the answer is to continue to be smarter and more strategic in how we deal with it.

QUESTION: You've been saying for over a year that you needed a temporary guest worker program, but you haven't been able to get it.

I'm wondering, what specifically are you going to do going into the next year with the new Congress in order to try and get a temporary worker program? And given that Democrats seem to favor a guest worker program, do you think that the chances of getting one are increased if the Democrats take the House next week?

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, I don't want to speculate about what happens politically. What I can tell you we're going to do is we're going to continue to talk about the logic of doing it.

And I go at a temporary worker program from an enforcement standpoint. My responsibility is to give the men and women who are in the field the best possible set of tools they can have to do their job.

And my view of one of the tools that will help them is a program that allows us to regulate temporary workers, identify them, give them a secure form of identification and know where they are, so that we can diminish some of that pressure at the border and let our enforcement agents focus on the criminals and drug dealers and other people in that state of mind.

So, to me, what's going to carry the day here has got to be the logic of the argument. I also think we have to convince the American people we are serious about the enforcement side of this.

You know, the skeptics go back to the 1980s and they say, well, there was -- at that point there was a program that allowed a lot of people who were here illegally to transition to citizenship, but there was a promise of enforcement that was never fulfilled.

And I understand the criticism. And that's why we're making a special effort to make it clear that we are going to fulfill the promise of enforcement, we're going to be tough, and that's why these criminal cases are important, because it shows the kind of tough-minded enforcement which I think is important in terms of the public's faith in our seriousness about this venture.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, with Expedited Removal and other removal proceedings, how many have you mistakenly deported?

MR. CHERTOFF: I can't say I'm aware of anybody that we've mistakenly deported. I mean, basically we're talking about people with phony documents or no documents. And I'm not aware of any significant or, you know, any material indication of error with respect to Expedited Removal.

What I can tell you Expedited Removal does is, it allows us to detain people until they're removed, because what is completely clear based on the history is this. If you get an illegal migrant from a third country other than Mexico and you don't have the bed space to hold that person and you release them and say come back for your court date, very few of them are going to come back. Common sense tells you that people who come into the country illegally and have no roots in the community are not going to obey a court order to come back so they can be deported.

So, to me, Expedited Removal is the only practical way to have the kind of catch and return which actually finally sends the message to people trying to sneak into the country that they shouldn't try because if they get caught, they're going to be sent back.

MODERATOR: Two more questions.

QUESTION: Yes. Ernesto, Associated Press reporter for Latin America. The President-elect of Mexico is coming next week and he will be meeting President. And Mr. Calderon has criticized the U.S. project to build defense in the border. And what kind of cooperation would you expect from the new Calderon administration?

MR. CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, we congratulate the president, the new president-elect on his election. As Chief Aguilar said, we actually have had a very good relationship with our counterparts in Mexico. They obviously feel the effects of the kind of criminal activity that occurs along their northern border and sometimes spills into our southern border.

We've worked on a number of cooperative ventures with them, the OASISS, program, for example, where they prosecute some of the smugglers in Mexico that we can't prosecute in the U.S. has been very successful. We've cooperated on extraditions. We've shared information in an effort to minimize border violence.

This is a case where both countries have a community of interest in cracking down on illegal activity on the border. And whether it's illegal smuggling of drugs or illegal smuggling of migrants, it's the same kind of illegal business. And those illegal businesses bring along a whole host of problems, including violence. And so the Mexican government and the state governments along that border have felt the effect of that violence from some of these drug gangs.

So, we're looking forward to continuing and building on the tremendous cooperation we have with the Mexican government to find a way to crack down on these illegal criminal organizations, which is going to benefit both sides of the border, and continue to allow both sides to enjoy the positive prosperity, which has been a hallmark of our two countries as good neighbors.

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: Could you address -- you've said you could get operational control of the border by 2008. On the other hand, that it would also be hard to sustain this kind of progress without a temporary worker program.

Can you address, one, what specifically you need to get control, operational control by 2008? Would it be fencing? Would it be actual implementation of a temporary worker program?

And in light of the fencing issue, Senator Gregg has said the Department's plan is only going to do about 350 or 400 miles of fencing. The Department has talked about this first 28-mile stretch. What are the Department's plans -- what fraction of the fencing do you expect to be impractical or ineffective, and when would it be completed?

MR. CHERTOFF: Wow, that's one question. That's a compound question, Spencer. I'm not sure I can remember the whole. I think there's no question that without a temporary worker program getting control of the border by the end of 2008, it would be very, very difficult, for the reason I've said. I mean, you have a lot of pressure that comes from economic migration. If we can't find a way to deal with that pressure, it's going to put all the stress on the border patrol agents and the ICE agents.

Obviously, we, you know, whatever tools we have, we're going to use and we're going to try to hit the target. But obviously the more tools we have, the better off we are.

I think our ultimate view is that we want to have a virtual fence across the entire border. But a virtual fence reflects the proper mix of traditional fencing, vehicle barriers, ground radar, aerial platforms, sensors, the right mixed based on the geography.

In some areas, for example, fencing works very well. In some areas it doesn't work so well. In some areas ground radar works well. In some areas, it doesn't work well. My disposition is to let the professionals decide what is the best lay down of all of this. But I will tell you what the end state we want to get to is.

We want to have the kind of virtual fence along the southern border that gives us a high percentage of likelihood of detecting anybody who is crossing illegally and a high percentage of likelihood of intercepting and apprehending that person. And our challenge over the next two, two-and-a-half years, is going to be to get as much of that done.

Obviously, Congress has to appropriate the money. The over $1.2 billion we got just in the last couple of months has been a tremendous advantage in doing this. It's given us for the first time the kind of resources we need to make this a realistic, although ambitious, objective.

But we're going to -- so we're going to focus on the highest traffic areas and the highest priority areas first, and then as we get more money, we're going to continue to build out until we eventually have the kind of control that I think the public wants us to have.