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Both political parties and their candidates pay lip service to controlling the borders. But neither President Bush nor Senator Kerry supports a system that would end the incentives for border crossers by cracking down on the employers of illegals. T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor organization that represents 10,000 border-patrol employees, believes the solution is obvious. The U.S. government, he says, should "issue a single document that's counterfeit proof, that has an embedded photograph, that says this person has a right to work in the U.S. And that document is the Social Security card. It's not a national ID card. It's a card that you have to carry when you apply for a job and only then. The employers run it through a scanner, and they get an answer in short order that says, Yes, you may hire, or No, you may not. That would cut off 98% of all the traffic across the border. With your work force of 10,000 border-patrol agents, you actually could control the borders."
But Bonner doesn't see that happening anytime soon because of pressure from corporate America. And all the available legislative evidence of the past quarter-century supports that view. "All the politicians--it doesn't matter which side of the aisle you're on--rely heavily on the donations from Big Business," he says, "and Big Business likes this system [of cheap illegal labor]. Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 world, this system puts us in jeopardy."
In the 9/11 commission's final report, now on the best-seller lists, the panel of investigators took note of the immigration breakdown in general, saying that "two systemic weaknesses came together in our border system's inability to contribute to an effective defense against the 9/11 attacks: a lack of well-developed counterterrorism measures as a part of border security and an immigration system not able to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism. These weaknesses have been reduced but are far from being overcome."
Folks on the border who must deal daily with the throngs of illegals are not optimistic that the Federal Government will change its ways. As Cochise County Sheriff Dever dryly observes, "People in Washington get up in the morning, their laundry is done, their floors are cleaned, their meals are cooked. Guess who's doing that?" --With reporting by Laura Karmatz and research by Joan Levinstein