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Secretary Chertoff

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Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was my guest in the first hour today. 

He is staying until the end of the Adminstration.

He believes the 370 miles of fencing will be up by the end of the next fiscal year if Congress appropriates the money.

And he thinks another run at immigration reform is possible in early 2008.

The transcript is here.

Key exchanges:

HH: Okay, last couple of questions about immigration reform. I opposed the bill that was out last year, but I do believe in regularization following the Border security coming along. Do you see a possibility of getting the fence to the point that it persuades people like me that it makes sense, changing it, the draft law to the point that it doesn’t treat Mexicans and Central Americans the same way it treats Middle Easterners, and then trying to get something done in 2008 that is comprehensive, but maybe not as ambitious as last year’s bill? 

MC: I do see a possibility off that, Hugh. I think that we need to obviously establish our credibility with the public, and we need to continue to move forward on the enforcement piece. And one of the reasons I’ve been out very aggressively banging the drum on moving forward with all these elements of enforcement, and frankly kind of putting a spotlight on the efforts being made to prevent us from enforcing is because I think if we can get the enforcement piece right, then we can come back with a plan that’s comprehensive. It may be a little less ambitious than this year’s plan, but at least it would give us a good down payment on getting where we need to get to cure this problem once and for all.

HH: As a matter of constructive criticism, would you understand how not knowing the number of double miles of fencing might lead people to conclude that it’s going to be another bump and run in the night, and that we really can’t trust the administration to give us the facts? 

MC: Well, I think we can certainly provide numbers like that. What I want to say to you, though, is I want to look at fencing not as if it a kind of a symbolic icon that has a value in and of itself. It’s a very useful tool, but it’s part of a package of tools. So we may very well decide that the right way to spend the money that we have is to put more single fencing along more border, as opposed to building double fencing where we don’t think we need it.

HH: Oh, I agree with that, but the transparency, I think, has been what has been lacking, the sort of easy access to the government’s thinking process, and then stories like the virtual fence not working in Lockheed, or is it Boeing running around being very upset with their implementation. Is that getting fixed, Mr. Secretary? 

MC: Well, we are, and I’ll tell you my attitude to Boeing is, and I told the CEO straight out. I said look, I know the individual pieces work, but your obligation is to give us a system that works as an integrated whole, in the demanding operational environment of the desert. And I’m going to be a tough consumer here on behalf of the taxpayer. So until I’m satisfied that this works properly, I’m not accepting it. And we’re going to begin that acceptance testing in the next week or so. We’re going to give it 20-30 days, make sure we’re really happy with it, and if and only if we are happy are we going to accept it.


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