Border security initiative means more work for DHS

Department to assume responsibility for additional detainees, enforcement.

President Bush's call Monday night for beefed-up border security put the National Guard in the spotlight, but Homeland Security Department officials said their workload will be boosted as well.

Various elements of DHS will work with the Defense Department to maintain the U.S.-Mexico divide, officials said Tuesday, as details about the president's border control initiative emerged.

DHS will be charged with expanding U.S.-run centers for detaining illegal immigrants to fill 4,000 more beds by the end of fiscal 2006, said Julie Myers, assistant secretary of the department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau. She added that officials might have to "use them more creatively" to handle the influx of detainees.

Some of the extra beds will be added at existing facilities, where contracts are already in place, meaning those contracts could be expanded. However, new facilities may be constructed in order to handle the detainee population.

The call for expanded detention centers comes as part of Bush's move to end the "catch and release" method of controlling illegal immigration, where apprehended illegal immigrants are released rather than detained, and expected to return for deportation hearings. In his televised address, Bush said the majority of those released never arrive for their day in court. He also is seeking an expedited legal process to cut the time of the average deportation process.

Myers said ICE agents will become more aggressive in targeting those who employ illegal immigrants. Many such employers also are involved in other criminal conspiracies, she said.

"Simple administrative sanctions are not enough," she said. "We find that in many instances employers that hire illegals as part of their business model really exploit them. And they may engage in money laundering."

The Customs and Border Protection bureau will see its workload grow as well. CBP chief David Aguilar said the agency will train thousands more agents at its academies than it previously did.

"As a part of the funding that we're looking at, we are getting money to basically build on to our academy," he said, "so the capacity we're looking to build over the next two-and-a-half years will be such [that] it will accommodate our growth" by 9,000 agents - which would double CBP's ranks to 18,000 in 2008. DHS officials, while backing Bush's plan, said they were not briefed on the costs surrounding some aspects. DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen said exact costs have not yet been calculated, and the department's budget office is preparing those figures. Most agencies could not detail how many new workers would be needed.

DHS and other departments receiving backup from the National Guard will eventually have to reimburse the military, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale said. However, he added, specifics are not yet finalized.

"We're trying to come up with cost estimates now," he said. "We don't know."

McHale said contracting opportunities will arise from Monday's announcement.

"DoD and DHS will use civilian contractors when appropriate," he said.

Whatever the cost of a more secure U.S. border, it is expected that all of the money spent by Defense will be returned to it, McHale said. Bush's plan calls for 6,000 National Guardsmen to be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border beginning next month.

DHS officials also could not say which department would be charged with the task of implementing the worker identification program urged by the president. Bush called for a biometric identification card to better arm employers and authorities against document fraud, but DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff did not say whether his department will lead that initiative.