Feb. 23, 2007 12:00 AM
It looked like just a silly photo-op. But it was more.
On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his tour group of U.S. lawmakers did some welding on a border fence near Yuma. Chertoff declared the area was brought "under permanent control" with fencing, sensors and increased patrols.
Considering that apprehensions still run about 100 per day, this is good news only in the comparative sense; the way disorder beats complete chaos.
Considering the recent gun violence targeting illegal immigrants along migrant corridors, even "disorder" sounds like an overly optimistic assessment.
Yet Chertoff's trip was about more than hyperbole.
With the Senate working on immigration reform legislation, Chertoff's tour provides cover for those not yet courageous enough to come out for a comprehensive approach. Like the reform bill passed by the Senate last year, the one that's due to be introduced in a few weeks comes from Arizona's Sen. John McCain and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Like last year's, it will be comprehensive.
Like last year's, its biggest challenge will come from those who want to "get tough" instead of rational. Even in the newly Democratic Congress, politicians tremble at the thought of being called soft on immigration.
Chertoff's visit is a clear signal that the nation did, indeed, get tough. National Guard soldiers are on the border, barriers and sensors are being put in place and the Border Patrol is hiring hundreds of new agents. Worksite raids have also made national news as the Bush administration sent a stern message to business.
Now it's time to get comprehensive.
At a recent White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked Bush to assign White House staff to work with Congress on immigration reform. OK, sure, the president has staff working on this. But this issue needs a high-level White House representative. It needs star power.
Bush, who has long said he supports comprehensive reform, needs to send a big shot up the Hill to make this a national priority.
The border infrastructure and personnel that Chertoff showed off in Arizona are important, but the result of such efforts is a predictable balloon effect - illegal immigration is simply pushed someplace else.
That's not opinion. It's history.
What's more, by making the journey harder without eliminating the jobs that attract migrants, U.S. policies have contributed to the creation of violent criminal smuggling organizations.
To truly achieve border security, the nation needs a way to legalize the current undocumented population, bring new workers legally into the country, provide a reliable verification system for employers to check a worker's status, and sanction employers who don't use it.
Chertoff's border tour emphasized serious enforcement. Politicians can point to that. They can agree that enforcement is important. But we need more.
Border enforcement can only be an effective long-term strategy if it is a part of comprehensive reform.