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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Joel Kaplan
Joel Kaplan
White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy
May 19, 2006

Joel Kaplan
Hi. It's great to be here again on Ask the White House to discuss immigration reform. I had the privilege of traveling with the President yesterday to visit with the men and women of the Border Patrol in Yuma, Arizona. The President heard first-hand from those on the frontlines about the progress they're making in securing our borders--and about the challenges they face in achieving control of our borders. He also talked to them about his plan for comprehensive reform of our immigration system. I'm looking forward to answering your questions about the President's plan here on Ask the White House.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Deputy Kaplan: I'm all for securing our borders. But I'm a little concerned about placing MILITARY TROOPS on the border. Bad things can happen. And it's worse if it's military. Can you shed some light on this issue? Thank You

Joel Kaplan
Sure Cliff--it's a good question. The President has made it clear that we are not about to militarize our southern border, which we share with our good friend and neighbor Mexico. But we do need to maintain the integrity of our Nation’s borders , which the President said is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation and an urgent requirement of our national security. One of the challenges of our immigration system has been our inability to effectively control movement across the borders. As a result, millions of illegal immigrants have been able to cross our borders and have blended into society’s shadows. We have taken a number of steps to increase border security, and we've made important progress. We've increased funding for border security by 66 percent during this Administration, and we've increased the number of Border Patrol agents from about 9,000 to about 12,000. But we've still got a lot of work to do in terms of manpower and technology before our border is secure. That's why the President proposed to train and field an additional 6,000 border patrol agents by 2008, as well as to harness the most advanced technology to leverage this increased manpower. These steps are critical--but they'll take time to complete. So to help fill the gap in the interim, the President has proposed to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard to help provide support to the border patrol . Over the next two years, the National Guard forces will provide support to the Border Patrol much as it already does on a more limited basis. National Guard units will be used for missions such as staffing and operating detection systems, providing mobile communications, augmenting the Border Patrol’s border-related intelligence analysis efforts, building and installing border security infrastructure, and providing transportation and logistics support. National Guard forces will NOT be directly involved in the apprehension or detention of illegal immigrants. This increased support is an immediate, short-term measure that will allow us to increase our security while building our civilian capabilities and fulfilling our commitment to reducing cross-border violence, preventing entry of possible terrorists, combating trafficking in persons and illegal narcotics, and stemming the flow of illegal immigrants.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Joel, I have heard a lot of talking about the building of a wall along our borders. How realistic is this and does President Bush support it? It seems so militaristic to have a fence, and I wonder who would pay for such a project. Would the border states be responsible to pay for the construction of their own respective fences? Thank You

Joel Kaplan
Building a fence that covers the entire 2,000 mile-long southern border is not practical; however, the President does support expanding fencing along the border in order to provide an effective deterrent to illegal crossings, and we are doing so. For example, in an urban location or metropolitan community that lies directly on the Mexican border, it can take only seconds for somebody to cross the border and be out of sight before law enforcement can respond. In this situation, a fence is a necessary and practical deterrent. However, there are places along the border where a fence is not the most effective solution to prevent illegal aliens from crossing the border. For example, along portions of the Rio Grande River there are sheer 200 foot cliffs that create a significant natural barrier that would prevent somebody from being able to enter our country easily. Similarly, in rural and desert areas, it is more efficient to focus our efforts on measures like vehicle barriers and sensors to detect human smugglers and drug runners because the remoteness of these areas allows the Border Patrol to intercept and apprehend persons before they can disappear into the interior. By expanding our fencing efforts in the urban and metropolitan communities and vehicle barriers in high traffic rural areas, we can significantly impact and reduce the illegal immigration flow. And, with a broader approach and the proper mix of resources --both increased manpower and advanced technology--we can significantly and efficiently enhance our operational capacity and our ability to apprehend and deter those attempting to cross the border.

Clark, from Hendersoville, NC writes:
Why does the government not take tougher measures against companies who routinely use illegal aliens to work? Some companies have numerous illegals who use the same social security number.

Joel Kaplan
President Bush has made it clear the comprehensive immigration reform requires better work site enforcement. Businesses have an obligation to abide by the law. The government has the responsibility to help them do so. The Administration has more than doubled the resources dedicated to worksite enforcement targeting employers who harbor illegal aliens. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced several significant actions targeting employers, including the arrest of over 1,200 individuals at two companies harboring illegal aliens. Yet, the fact remains that under current law, businesses often cannot verify the legal status of their employees because of the widespread problem of document fraud. The Department of Homeland Security is committed to attacking the infrastructure that supports illegal immigration. Working with the Department of Justice, ICE has initiated a new program creating task forces in 11 cities nationwide that target and dismantle document fraud rings – the life-blood of illegal employment. The Administration is also expanding the Basic Pilot program enabling businesses to screen the employment eligibility of new hires electronically against immigration records. But more must be done – and comprehensive immigration reform must include a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility. The President announced that a key part of that system should be a new identification card for every legal foreign worker. This card should use biometric technology, such as digital fingerprints, to make it tamper-resistant.

Susan, from Northampton , PA writes:
If Mexican drug dealers shoot at our National Guard, can our National Guard shoot back in defense?

Joel Kaplan
Hi Susan. Thanks for asking this one--no question about it, the safety and security of our Guardsmen and women has to be a paramount consideration in their deployment. The idea is for the National Guard to be in a support role, not in the direct apprehension or detention of illegal immigrants. All deployed personnel will, however have the right to protect themselves. The Department of Defense and DHS are coordinating with the states to develop standardized Rules for the Use of Force (referred to as RUF) for the deployment.

orlando, from turlock writes:
Why won't the President and the Republicans in Congress demand the border be completely shut down and force a vote on closing the border, before handling the other immigration issues?

Joel Kaplan
Thanks Orlando. The President understands that many people are frustrated when they see that we do not yet have full control over our borders. That's why he laid out a plan to dramatically increase the number of border patrol agents and the technology we deploy on our border, to end catch and release, to provide greater support to local and state law enforcement who assist the Border Patrol, and to provide immediate, interim assistance through the deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard. But the President also knows that immigration reform won't work unless it is comprehensive, and that the border will not be secured by walls and fences and technology alone. These are all critical, but we also need to remove some of the pressure on our borders that results from the basic fact that many people will do just about anything--including risk their lives--to come to America to work and to have a chance at a better life. That's why we need a temporary work program that allows willing foreign workers to come work for employers to fill jobs Americans aren't doing. If people know they have a realistic chance to come here legally, in an orderly fashion, they are a lot less likely to pile into the back of an 18-wheeler or walk for miles through the 100-degree desert heat. And if they come here legally, our national security will be increased, because we'll know who they are, where they work, and why they're here. To secure the border effectively, we must reduce the numbers of people trying to sneak across. We also must increase our interior enforcement; deal realistically with the fact that we've got millions of people already here living in the shadows and beyond the reach of the law; and assimilate newcomers into our society in a way that they embrace our common identity as Americans, the way previous generations of immigrants have.

Kallie, from Brady, Texas writes:
What is the President's position on granting amnesty to those illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S.?

Joel Kaplan
President Bush opposes amnesty and believes illegal immigrants should not be given an automatic path to citizenship because it would be unfair to those who are here lawfully and would invite further waves of illegal immigration. But the President also thinks we need to deal realistically with the fact that there are millions of people who came here illegally who are already here. It would not be realistic or very practical to think we're going to deport all of these people. Between amnesty--which the President opposes--and mass deportation, there is a rational middle ground for dealing with this reality in a way that does not reward illegal behavior but also respects the dignity of every person. That rational middle ground recognizes that within this population, there are differences between someone who crossed the border yesterday and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. And for those who have roots in this country and want to stay, the President believes they must first pay their debt to society for having come here illegally. So he believes they need to pay a meaningful penalty, make good on their taxes, learn English, hold a job, and otherwise demonstrate the good character that makes them worthy of citizenship.

Rosalinda, from San Diego, California writes:
Is there a positive outlook for immigrants that have been married to an American citizen and has children that are also American citizens?

Joel Kaplan
Rosalinda, thanks for your question. The President believes that America is stronger and more dynamic when we welcome new citizens to our democracy. But the citizenship line is too long, and so the President supports increasing the annual number of green cards that can lead to citizenship, including both employment-based and family-based green cards.

Alex, from Herndon,VA writes:
This question is not related to immigration reform, I just wanted to know if you have ever watched the TV show "The West Wing". The show recently ended, and I wanted to know if you had watched it before whether most positions such as yours were portrayed accurately. Thank you for your time.

Joel Kaplan

I wasn't a regular watcher of the show, but I definitely saw it a couple of times. Couple of impressions: one big difference is that the inside of the real West Wing doesn't look anything like the one on the show. On the show, it seemed like the West Wing is a very bustling place, with lots of people whizzing around in crowded hallways. The real West Wing is actually a lot smaller and more confined, and there just aren't that many people walking around the hallways at any one time, because not that many people actually work in the West Wing. One similarity between the show and the real West Wing is the number of difficult issues that the President has to deal with on any given day. It is incredibly fast-paced, and the President has to be able to handle many different things at once, all of them extremely important to the American people.

Matthew, from Detroit writes:
The President spoke of work passes for immigrants to do jobs that Americans do not perform. How are these proposed passes different than visas or "green cards" currently used?

Joel Kaplan
President Bush supports a temporary worker program that would create a legal path for foreign workers to enter our country in an orderly way, for a limited period of time. This program would match willing foreign workers with willing American employers for jobs Americans are not doing. Every worker who applies for the program would be required to pass criminal background checks, and temporary workers must return to their home country at the conclusion of their authorized stay. Unlike a green card, a temporary worker visa would not allow someone to stay permanently in the U.S. and it would not lead to citizenship.

William, from New Braunfels, Texas writes:
The president mentioned in his speach that "catch and release" was over. Does this mean that when law enforcement encounters an illegal alien, the person that is in our country illegally will be deported?

Joel Kaplan
I think the President said something a little bit different from that, William. The Department of Homeland Security is on the road to ending “catch and release” along the Southwest border, but it is not over yet.

More than 85 percent of the illegal immigrants we catch crossing the southern border are Mexicans, and most are sent back home within 24 hours. But when we catch illegal immigrants from other countries, it is a more lengthy process to send them home. And for years, the government has not had enough space in detention facilities to hold illegal immigrants during these sometimes lengthy legal processes. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up. Hence, the term, “catch and release.” The President has been working to end this problem. The Administration has increased the number of beds in our detention facilities and has expanded the use of expedited removal – expediting the legal process to cut average deportation times.

We're also making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we've ended "catch and release" for illegal immigrants from some key countries. However, there is still more work to be done to meet the President’s goal.

Yesterday, the President asked Congress for additional resources for border security. Additional resources, coupled with additional legal authority from the Congress, will help end the practice of catch and release along the Southwest border.

Joel Kaplan
I have to get back to work so I can try and make the National/Orioles game later tonight, but this was fun. I wish I could have gotten to all of the questions. I had a great time and look forward to doing this again in the future. Go Nats!