We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome lawful immigrants and visitors, and promote the free-flow of commerce.
The above is the Mission Statement for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
When it comes to meeting their Mission Statement objectives, well, it’s been found that the DHS is kept really busy â€” not going after terrorists but immigrants who either entered the U.S. without an inspection, did not have a valid immigrant visa, or overstayed a student visa.
When it came to finding and prosecuting terrorists, in the last three years only 12 out of 814,073 individuals were charged with such an offense.
In a study titled Immigration Enforcement: The Rhetoric, The Reality by Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which researches federal enforcement, staffing and spending practices of the federal government, it was found that what is said and done at the Department of Homeland Security are two different things.
To many involved directly with DHS, the news is not new. The only thing different is that it is now officially documented:
For the last few years, the speeches and congressional testimony of senior DHS officials and the reports and mission statements of the department’s agencies have repeatedly declared that the core purpose of their immigration control efforts is to intercept terrorists, terrorist weapons, drug dealers, smugglers and a range of other criminals. As a result of this emphasis, the public understanding of the actual challenge facing the agencies in regulating immigration and Congress’ consideration of the funds and special legal powers the agencies require to do their jobs may be somewhat skewed.
A second key DHS agency in the government’s border patrol efforts is Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In a message introducing CBP’s FY 2006 Performance and Accountability Report, Commissioner Ralph Basham states that “our priority mission â€” and our greatest challenge â€” is to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, both at and between the ports of entry.”
Agency executives repeatedly echo the thrust of the mission statements and annual reports. Julie L. Myers, for example, is the assistant secretary of DHS who heads ICE. On April 20, 2007 Myers addressed a conference of immigration lawyers, many of whom regularly represent clients charged by the government with administrative non-criminal violations that have little apparent connection to terrorism or traditional kinds of crime.
“I’m proud,” she told the conference, “that we are entering our fourth year of service to the American people and our mission remains clear â€” to protect the United States and uphold public safety by targeting the people, money materials that support terrorists and criminal activities.”
Myers had made almost exactly the same claim in numerous statements to House and Senate Committees. So have her associates. Marcy M. Forman is the director of investigations at ICE. In testimony to a Senate subcommittee in March of 2006, she said “our mission is to protect the American people by combating terrorists and other criminals who cross the Nation’s borders and threaten us here at home.” (The court data indicate that all but one of the handful of individuals so charged appeared to have entered the country legally.)
The court data, in fact, document that a significant proportion of ICE’s enforcement activities involve straightforward immigration charges â€” and not those involving terrorism, national security and criminal violations.
A highly experienced former government official and a number of immigration lawyers have told TRAC that DHS investigators sometimes file charges against individuals that are less serious than the agents felt were warranted by the facts. The explanation they gave for this undercharging: while more serious charges often are harder to process in the immigration courts than lesser ones, the ultimate possible sanction â€” deportation â€” usually is the same regardless of alleged violation. Therefore, they said, in some instances lodging more serious charges was of little advantage to the government. (Court records do show, however, that half of the tiny number of persons charged with terrorism also were charged with immigration violations.)
Despite the constant official talk by ICE officials about its war on terrorism campaign, the data on national security and terrorism charges clearly show declining long term trends back to 1992. The incidents of 9/11/2001 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security appear to have had little discernable impact on these trends.