New York (CNN) - When is a great idea about securing our nation's porous borders not a great idea? Surprisingly, when it comes from the country's top border official.
In a truly stunning development, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert Bonner last week announced to reporters he thinks a voluntary patrol made up of concerned and organized citizens along our broken borders is an idea worth exploring.
Commissioner Bonner said he welcomes "the eyes and ears of citizens who help us gain control of our borders." He also applauded the Minutemen Project volunteers for acting responsibly and not taking the law into their own hands. That's a far cry from President Bush's assessment of the Minutemen, who he mistakenly pre-judged as "vigilantes."
We must, in my opinion, give Commissioner Bonner great credit for having the courage, as well as the innovative instinct, to suggest channeling that volunteer spirit, patriotism (dare I use that word?) and that concern about border security into an idea about a civilian auxiliary force.
Unfortunately for all of us, the Department of Homeland Security didn't give him such credit and it doesn't agree with his idea. In fact, the department wasted no time in officially rejecting the idea that federal Border Patrol officers work with civilian volunteers to patrol the porous U.S. borders against what is nothing short of an invasion of illegal aliens.
Border Patrol supervisors in Arizona have discounted the Minutemen's efforts along the Southern border. But Congress tells a different story. As the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus said in its Results and Implications of the Minuteman Project report: "Nearly every individual Border Patrol officer who spoke off-the-record in the field to the Caucus Team said that illegal immigration had virtually stopped in the sector patrolled by the Minutemen as a direct result of Minutemen activity and publicity."
That same Congressional caucus in May advocated sending thousands of National Guard troops or state militia to our border with Mexico would stop the flood of illegal aliens into this country. It also called for several border-state governors to immediately request federal funding from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the mobilization of 36,000 National Guard troops.
A volunteer U.S. Border Patrol would follow a proud tradition of American citizens helping protect our country and our national interests. Thirty-thousand U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary volunteers participate in coastal security patrols all around the country, and the U.S. Air Force auxiliary has 60,000 volunteers that perform security patrols and search and rescue missions. And, of course, hundreds of thousands of citizens volunteer to work in our Sheriff, Police and Fire Departments.
For years Congress has been out of step with their constituents on illegal immigration and border security. Now, however, some our nation's policymakers are finally responding to the loud cries from voters to fix our nation's broken borders with several competing bills.
The superior proposal is the legislation sponsored by Senators John Cornyn and John Kyl, who are seeking 10,000 new Border Patrol agents, 10,000 new detention beds, fraud resistant Social Security cards, increased penalties for employers, and under their guest worker program, employers must first certify no Americans are available. And current aliens would have to leave the U.S. to apply for permanent status.
"What this does is serve our national interest from the standpoint of increased security," said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). "It deals with our economic needs in terms of the work, but it also, I think, helps to address some of the root causes of illegal immigration by encouraging people to return with the savings and skills they've acquired in the United States."
That legislation is bound to attack special interest groups, particularly Hispanic activist groups seeking open borders, and of course, big business, because they're the ones hiring illegal aliens without any threat of consequence. Representative Tom Tancredo's proposal goes even further, while Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy have offered a more generous program for illegal aliens.
But Congress isn't off the hook completely, in my opinion. The Senate recently reneged on its promise to hire 2,000 more Border Patrol agents, instead voting to hire only half of that requested figure. Senators also failed to fulfill its commitment to provide 8,000 new detention beds, adding just over 2,000 new detention beds.
"The Border Patrol now releases 90 percent of the people they catch through voluntary repatriation," said Senator John McCain (R-AZ). "Ninety percent, my friends. We don't have enough detention facilities. We don't have enough beds." And since October, more than 70,000 illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico have been stopped and later released into our country. Talk about a homeland security problem.
More than 15,000 civilian volunteers are expected to patrol the border from California to Texas, as well as in seven states on the Canadian border this fall, according to the U.S. Border Patrol. And affiliated groups are also videotaping employers suspected of hiring illegal aliens and protesting government-sponsored day laborer sites.
I guess the Department of Homeland Security isn't interested in implementing a sound idea. Our government needs not only to fully explore and develop Commissioner Bonner's ideas for an auxiliary border patrol, but it should follow the lead of the people.