Hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subject: The US and Mexico: Immigration Policy and the Bilateral Relationship - Part II
MR. EDUARDO AGUIRRE: (Continued from Part I)
Third, the success of this program will require incentives. Incentives to take advantage of the temporary worker program and incentives to return to the home country. Beyond the obvious economic and social opportunities it is important that the temporary worker be able to travel to his or her country of origin to maintain important ties for his or her eventual return. Many of the individuals already in the United States who would apply to participate in the president's temporary worker program would have accrued sufficient unlawful presence to be subject to the three and 10 year bar for reentry. Thus, any such legislation would necessarily need to supercede those bars for individuals who register.
Fourth, the program should be fair and not come at the expense of legal immigrants who have respected our laws and earned their place in line. It is the president's belief that if the worker decides to pursue and is qualified to adjust to permanent status, it should be through the current process and should take a spot at the back of the line. Recognizing, however, that the current annual limitations may be insufficient, the president called for a reasonable annual increase in legal immigrants.
Fifth, the program should be simple and user friendly, thus one that can be effectively administered by our bureau. As you know, the temporary worker program proposal that we're discussing today is of extraordinary importance to Mexico. President Fox, while recognizing the important role of the United States Congress, in discussing and legislating a temporary worker program has voiced his support of President Bush's proposal. The United States for its part is quite cognizant of both of the economic and cultural benefits that result from Mexicans coming to work and live in our country. The challenge before us is to ensure that the migration of Mexicans, as well as nationals from other nations, is legal, safe and orderly.
Our relationship with the government of Mexico continues to be of great important to both our nations. President Bush, Secretary Ridge and I are committed to frank, frequent and open exchanges with our Mexican counterparts at all levels of government. As I'm sure you know, President Bush and President Fox met on March 5 and 6 at President Bush's ranch in Texas. Last month I traveled with Secretary Ridge to Mexico to engage in meetings with Interior Secretary Creel and other members of the government of Mexico. In addition, I have had several meetings with various Mexican government officials both here and in Mexico. In all of our interactions with Mexico, our administration recognizes that migration issues are a key element in our bilateral relationship.
Beyond the temporary worker program we have been working with the government of Mexico on a variety of immigration relation issues. In concert with the Department of State and Labor we have eliminated the numerical limits and the associated requirements of a petition and corresponding labor condition application for Mexican professionals as provided by NAFTA.
Additionally, the United States and the government of Mexico have been exchanging information on our respective asylum programs and processes. These are just a few examples of what is a robust, important and open relationship with the government of Mexico. The temporary worker program will only enhance this close relationship. Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks. Thank you for the invitation to testify and I look forward to the opportunity to exchange ideas.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, thank you very much, Director Aguirre.
MR. C. STEWART VERDERY: Chairman Lugar and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today to testify about the Department of Homeland Security's participation in our very important U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship. As you mentioned, I'm Stewart Verdery, assistant secretary for Policy in the department's Border and Transportation Security Directorate.
As my written testimony details, a sensible immigration policy begins with security at our nation's borders and enforcement of our laws. Our homeland will be more secure when we can better account for those in our country, instead of the current situation in which millions of people are unknown. Reforming our immigration laws to strengthen our economy, while bringing integrity to our immigration system, is a worthwhile goal consistent with our homeland security needs.
However, following on the comments of my fellow panelists I'd like to concentrate my brief oral remarks today on several important initiatives DHS, and particularly our BTS Directorate, are developing that impact our relationship with Mexico. The U.S. and Mexico signed a border partnership plan nearly two years ago and to facilitate progress under that accord, last month Secretary Ridge led a team from DHS to Mexico City which included Director Aguirre. At that meeting Secretaries Ridge and Creel signed two important and companion agreements: a memorandum of understanding on the repatriation of Mexican nationals, and a 2004 border plan of action.
These agreements provide a framework for ensuring a secure, safe and orderly border, especially during the upcoming summer months when dangers to migrants are most acute. We have agreed with Mexico to focus our efforts on the Arizona-Sonora corridor with a combination of resources, equipment, training and law enforcement cooperation. Last Tuesday, on March 16, Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson announced the Arizona Border Control Initiative, or the ABC, a first of its kind integrated operation aimed at saving migrant lives, enhancing border security, disrupting smuggling operations and reducing violence in border communities.
The announcement launching ABC alerted a community and those who would seek to exploit our borders that we are beginning to build our operational capacity to deal with the unprecedented flow of aliens through this dangerous terrain. Together with our Mexican counterparts, we're strengthening joint public safety campaigns and intensifying remote surveillance along high risk routes into the U.S. We provided search, rescue and lifesaving training to DHS and Mexican officers to respond to migrants who are lost or stranded by smugglers in a dangerous terrain.
ABC integrates not only law enforcement at all levels, but integrates efforts along the border at our ports of entry and in Arizona communities away from the border. Between our POEs we'll deploy 200 additional and experienced border patrol agents, bringing the Tucson sector to over 2,000. At our POEs we will strengthen the anti-terrorism contraband teams and the use of non-intrusive inspection equipment, and we will also intensify the presence of DHS at inland transportation terminals and airports.
The ABC will also dovetail with Operation ICE Storm, an initiative of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in which we were already disrupting and dismantling smuggling operations, uncovering drop houses and targeting human smuggling infrastructure in Arizona's largest cities and communities. And we trust that this initiative will help respond to the concerns raised by Senator McCain and others about the horrific conditions in that area.
Returning to the broader U.S.-Mexico border partnership plan, we've outlined 22 concrete actions our countries are taking to confront the common threat of terrorism against the American and Mexican people. And among the many accomplishments under the plan include the Sentry program, one of several programs designed to facilitate cross-border travel of prescreened, low risk travelers to enable DHS officers to focus resources on unknown and higher risk travels who seek admission to the country. Currently we operate Sentry lanes in Otay Mesa, San Ysidro and El Paso, and eight additional lanes are planned with a target date of the end of this year. As part of the enrollment process, applicants and their vehicles undergo a security check and the names of the roll participants are checked regularly against watch lists.
We've also opened the first FAST, or Free and Secure Trade Lane, in El Paso for commercial traffic and qualifying truck drivers in September, and a second one last month in Laredo. Like Sentry, participants in FAST are prescreened to determine low risk and suitability for the program. Also, we've expanded the Customs trade partnership against terrorism program to Mexico to strengthen supply chain security, and now have 51 importers in Mexico certified for that program.
We are screening rail cargo moving in both directions across the border with the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System, the VACIS. When a rail VACIS system is deployed at the last of the eight rail crossings this year, we will have reached 100 percent screening. We've assisted Mexico with the deployment of the Advanced Passenger Information System and are finalizing arrangements for the exchange of this crucial airline information.
I would also like to highlight the recent announcement following President Fox's meeting with President Bush in Texas that the department is committed to developing a solution for Mexican border crossing cardholders, the BCC holders, to satisfy requirements under the US-VISIT program, our new entry-exit border program. As background, the biometrically enhanced BCC is both a crossing card and a visa. The BCC is valid for entry to the U.S. within 25 miles of the southwestern border zone for less-for 72 hours or less. Since 1999 the zone has been expanded for 75 miles for the Arizona region only. The Biometric Verification System, the BVS, was created to fulfill our statutory mandate to incorporate a biometric identifier into the BCC. We are integrating the BVS with other systems within our department to create an inspection booth capability that will be compatible with US- VISIT requirements.
Mexican nationals who use the travel documents only as a BCC will not initially be subject to US-VISIT processing during primary inspection. This decision is an interim solution for our land border while the department explores long term solutions to record the entry and exit of individuals crossing our land ports of entry. Of course, if a Mexican national uses a BCC as a B1-B2 visa for longer travel outside the border zone or is required to obtain a regular visa, he or she will be subject to US-VISIT requirements. In just two months US- VISIT has successfully and efficiently recorded the entry of over two million passengers without causing delays at ports of entry or hindering trade. The program has resulted in 187 watch list hits, including serious criminals, solely because of the biometric collection from non-immigrant visa holders.
To conclude, any temporary worker initiative plan that Congress enacts should be matched with the important and successful programs we are developing with our colleagues in Mexico, such as repatriation and US-VISIT. The department looks forward to working with this committee and the Congress to do so. Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to your questions.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, thank you very much, Secretary Verdery. The chair would suggest a seven minute question period and another round if that is required for senators to raise their questions. I'll begin the question period by observing that in December the Aspen Institute, under our former colleague Senator Dick Clark, conducted a very good meeting in Mexico in which 20 members of Congress met with officials of the Mexican government, people from think tanks and others who were involved in the relationship.
Specifically the new foreign minister of Mexico was a participant and that was very valuable, both in terms of the formal sessions and the informal ones.
And some of the points that have been made by senators and by witnesses in the administration today were clearly a part of that meeting in December, in which there was a feeling that the relationship between President Bush and President Fox, which started with an excellent meeting before 9/11 -- unfortunately, that relationship the persons have not been interrupted, but the dialogue at least between the countries, the public manifestation of that, had undergone a change that was not for the good. So the question before the members of Congress was, how can we work with the administration to make certain that the relationship not only improves but we recognize how important it is literally, this vital neighbor, a member with us in the NAFTA treaty which has resulted in extraordinary changes, in my judgment for the good, but clearly this subject clearly for debates all by itself-fallout of NAFTA. Clearly, a lot has happened since then. I am one who appreciates the fact the president of the United States has addressed the immigration issue. Even more importantly, he has met with President Fox at Crawford.
Having said that, I want to try out some ideas here that require much more exploration. But one idea that arose from the December conference from the Mexican side informally-and I do not attribute this to the foreign minister or to anyone-was this thought: that in terms of our energy cooperation, Pemex needs capital. In the past this issue has been difficult simply because of the nationalization of the oil industry and one of the problems for Mexico is that the amount of revenue coming from Pemex to the government, and that is a major source of income for the stability of that government is severely limited by lack of capital improvements or whatever the infrastructure might require.
So forward thinking Mexicans, hopefully interacting with forward thinking Americans who are saying, what if somehow Mexico was prepared to reach out and propose that there be a capital infusion by the United States, by either public or private investors, so that as a matter of fact the capacity of Pemex to pump oil was increased maybe by 100 percent, with the thought that this 100 percent increase would be primarily dedicated to the United States market? In essence, at a time of great energy difficulties for us, with ups and downs even in our own hemisphere with regard to oil supply, quite part from the Middle East, why not begin to forge a strategic economic partnership based upon supplies that are very ample, but an infrastructure with Pemex which is not very ample in bringing this about?
My understanding is that serious discussion of this sort will occur in the equivalent of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations in Mexico City, and maybe other fora as at least people in political life are sensitized, just as we were being in the December meeting. But I ask you, Secretary Noriega-and I have not prepared you for this line of inquiry-but what are the possibilities, for example, of a more strategic relationship on energy; something that's tremendously important in the foreign policy and maybe in the economies of our countries? We've talked today about a jumpstart for things we might do to help the Mexican economy. That means we're thinking about revenues for their government as well as for our own. But here lies a fairly large resource, even if a large political and historical problem. Is this something that perhaps we ought to pursue?
MR. NORIEGA: Senator, I believe that's a very essential issue that we have to deal with. Estimates are that Mexico will need in the energy sector about $180 billion of additional investment. We certainly encourage private sector investment in that energy sector. Mexico is a key supplier, our fourth supplier of crude. And it's important also to note that as that economy grows, its demand for energy is increased. So here you have a country with vast resources that is actually having to import electricity from other countries.
I think President Fox and many in Mexico recognize that they must take steps to open up that part of the economy to cooperation and to investment, to joint ventures. But it is, of course, a-has been a neuralgic issue, a question of sovereignty, of the husbanding of that resource-national resource. It is going to require a dialogue in Mexico, and we can support this effort by being transparent in our interests, showing that we're interested in mutually beneficial arrangements, and putting it perhaps in a North American context. Certainly the relationship we-energy relationship we have with Canada is also critical. They're a chief supplier of foreign energy. So if we can put it in the context of North American integration, I think that we can make important strides on that front. It is really essential that we do so.
SEN. LUGAR: I appreciate that comment, because I agree with it. The North American integration idea is a good way to place it. I suppose what I'm hoping is that in this area and maybe in some more, we sort of move outside the box. We begin to get a much broader agenda. This is notwithstanding the extreme importance of the immigration issue we're talking about today, and the specific humane considerations whether it be safety for Mexicans or the DREAM Act or other-because these are things that we may be able to deal with in the short run.
But I'm trying to think, as I know you are in the administration, of a much broader agenda in which we begin to take seriously the relationship across the board in macroeconomic terms and try to think through, if not in a bilateral way, perhaps with Canada, perhaps as we integrate hopefully the Central American free trade agreement and cooperation with even more of the hemisphere as we get into South America. It seems to me if we sent more signals of this variety-and one purpose of this hearing is to send some of these signals. My friends in Mexico who say, well, you know, why aren't you raising these issues? Why aren't we discussing Mexico more? Well, that's an important question so we need to do that and to say we take it seriously.
MR. NORIEGA: Senator, if I can add just very briefly we are fleshing out some proposals in the North American context across the board to make us all more competitive and emphasize these mutually beneficial economic arrangements. Energy has to be a part of that. It is also related to the migration question because for Mexico to generate sufficient jobs at home for their growing population, they're going to have to do some things retooling their economy to make themselves more competitive, and energy of course is a part of that equation. We are looking at it in a comprehensive way and I can send that positive signal and would look forward to being a little more specific with you about the ideas that we have in mind for North American integration.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, great. We've exceeded my time, but I would just say I know the committee will welcome those ideas. We would like to be a fora for you not only to express them, but to have at least some wind at your back in pushing them on.
SEN. DODD: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I would suggest your question goes right to the heart of what this hearing is about ultimately, if we're really going to deal with immigration issues.
And, Secretary Noriega, let me say you and I have talked about this in the past. I'm less benign when it comes to the issue of whether or not we've been engaged in this bilateral relationship in the hemisphere. As you know, I feel that strongly. I understand obviously since 9/11 there have been obviously other matters of a higher priority on our mind, but it has been a source of significant disappointment to this senator that we have neglected, in my view, this region to a large extent. And I'm pleased to see that we've begun again in March to address some of these questions. There have been some initiatives. I applaud that, but I've been terribly disappointed that we've had very little to say to the leadership of this hemisphere, including arguably one of the two most important bilateral relationships, that of U.S.-Mexico.
Let me if I can, because I want to get to Mexico but I don't often get a chance to have you in front of the committee so I want to ask you quickly about Haiti if I can. There were statements made over the weekend by this new prime minister declaring these thugs in Gonaives to be freedom fighters. I now how you described them and I applaud your description of those people. You testified at the hearing we had on Haiti. Has there been any change in our administration's viewpoint of who these people are? And to what extent have we communicated to this new prime minister our objections to his description of these people? He was being ferried around in Black Hawk helicopters and French Chinook helicopters, and no disarmament on the part of these people.
They were going to lay down their arms, they didn't do it. Has anything changed here that we ought to be aware of? And what comments does the administration have about this new prime minister's description of these death squad leaders as freedom fighters?
MR. NORIEGA: Our position has not changed on that. I understand there was some disarmament by these groups, but clearly it's insufficient. And I communicated yesterday morning, if not the night before, with Ambassador Foley to tell him that we regarded these statements as appalling and to get some sort of explanation and see if the new prime minister understands fully the way we see this problem, and the fundamental view on our part that these leaders of these criminal gangs should not benefit in any way from the change of government
SEN. DODD: Well, I appreciate that's a public comment you're making here, and I think any of the public statements might be helpful because there was sort of silence after this. And I realize it's a brief amount of time, but nonetheless it seems to me public statements being made as well about how we view those kind of comments would be helpful.
Secondly and very quickly, the upcoming elections in the Dominican Republic. The NDI and others have asked to go down and since '94 they've gone down and participated in the oversight of these elections, and I'm very worried about how elections are proceeding in the Dominican Republic. I served in the Peace Corps there back many years ago, I have a strong interest in the country, as you know. And I gather there's been a request made, the department has turned down the request.
I wonder if you might just reexamine that request? I'd be very interested. I'd participate myself and others might be interested in going. I think John Sununu participated with President Carter the last time and had a very effective observation team, and I'd like to renew that request here today. I don't expect an answer at this moment from you, but I'd like to see if that NDI request could be reconsidered. There's a very good NGO on the ground that's highly respected in terms of election observations and it might be helpful if you can get some additional resources to go down and have the NDI there.
MR. NORIEGA: Senator, we had decided-I didn't, frankly, know that NDI was interested in going down. But we had decided to put our resources behind an OAS observation effort.
SEN. DODD: I know that.
MR. NORIEGA: Having said that, I can give you a clear --
SEN. DODD: And I appreciate that --
MR. NORIEGA: -- indication that we'll --
SEN. DODD: I appreciate that. There's about 225,000 for the OAS. It's estimated it would need probably another 400,000 or 500,000 at least to really do it right. That's what I'm told. I don't pretend to be an expert in these areas. Nonetheless, would you take a look at this?
MR. NORIEGA: Absolutely, sir.
SEN. DODD: Okay. Let me jump to the issue at hand. And I again want to applaud the chairman for raising the issue. I've got some very specific questions about the timing of legislation. Let me just express by my calculation we've got about 36, maybe 40, legislative days left in this Congress. If you assume the fact we don't do much here on Monday and we usually leave by Fridays, so we've got Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you take that, exclude the weeks we're not in session, the math is not terribly complicated.
This is a complicated proposal. When are we going to see a legislative proposal from the White House? Or are we? Maybe they've decided not to. And if you have decided not to, are you embracing the Hagel legislation or other bills that have been proposed? I believe that Mr. Aguirre, I guess, is the --
MR. AGUIRRE: Well, thank you, Senator. As you know, I'm only three years in government but I understand that the legislative process really begins on your side of the government. And from the administration standpoint, the perception that I have is that the president has framed quite effectively the issue and some of the parameters that would be appealing to the administration in terms of dealing with this issue. But I think we're expecting and finding that the Congress is bringing forth several proposals that in one way or another meet with the president's proposal. I think it's not so much the devil is in the details, but God is in the details in this particular case. And I find that some of these proposals are so much or not so much with the president's --
SEN. DODD: Well, we don't have a lot of time so we're trying to get this done.
MR. AGUIRRE: Yes, sir.
SEN. DODD: If we're really trying to get it done-and I respect the fact you're not terribly familiar, it's not uncommon for an administration to submit legislative ideas, proposals to the Congress. They don't have to do that, but it seems to me we ought to have a lot more specificity. Senator Hagel can raise questions about his own bill himself, but I'd be curious as to whether or not any of these specific proposals, if you're not going to submit a proposal, have the administration's support?
MR. AGUIRRE: Well, Senator, the administration is prepared to engage with the Congress, both sides of the Congress, on the details of these proposals. I don't think any one of these proposals meets exactly the president's initiative, but I think they're close enough that we're happy to engage and to find common points of convergence.
SEN. DODD: You've certainly been around long enough to appreciate the fact that with 36 days on a bill like this bill that's being proposed, knowing the hostility you're getting from the more conservative elements of the Republican Party who have expressed strong opposition to this proposal, what likelihood is there? Based on what you're telling me, I see little or no likelihood you're going to get this bill adopted this year. Do you agree with that?
MR. AGUIRRE: Well, Senator, I think when the president called on the Congress on January 7 to act, I certainly expect that action will be taken and I think we see on these type of hearings action. Whether or not it's going to pass Senate and the House, I'll leave it to you. I'm really not that much of an expert on the legislative side.
SEN. DODD: No, thank you. I want to come back if I can, Mr. Chairman, and I want to pick up on your point that the Mexico-United States Partnership for Prosperity was I think a very healthy concept and idea, and I want to pursue where that's going because it goes right to the point you're making about encouraging investment in the areas of Mexico that historically have had the highest levels of immigration. And it don't seem to me we've done enough to really discourage through economic growth, assuming that most people emigrate or do these things because they lack the opportunities in their own areas, and to the extent we can really promote that is something I want to come back and talk about. Thank you.
SEN. LUGAR: Senator Hagel.
SEN. HAGEL: Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Gentlemen, thank you for appearing before us this morning. To pick up on a point that Senator Dodd made-and I assume I'll stay in the channel that Senator Dodd was in with you, Mr. Aguirre. I think we all understand that the immensity of immigration reform is going to require presidential leadership. There is no other way to do that. I mean, we have 535 of us up here. We are disciplined by-one reference Senator Dodd made, by party structure, by committee structure, by institutional structure. But this is an immense task before us, to try to get comprehensive immigration reform. It is going to require intense presidential leadership, not only because of the narrow window we have, as Senator Dodd mentioned.
And so my question would be, what is the administration doing? What will the administration do to push this issue, since you do not have your own proposal up here, you have a set of principles which are very important and we appreciate that, and the president deserves credit for stepping forward and I have said so many times publicly.
But that only takes us about 5 percent of the way. So what are we going to see from the administration to be up here. Who's going be up here? Who's going to be pushing it? And give us some sense of that.
MR. AGUIRRE: Well, Senator, I don't have the exact count, but I believe since January the 7th, the president has mentioned this particular proposal in varying parts, perhaps well over a dozen times. I know it was mentioned here in the State of the Union. So I think the president's serious about the issue and I think the president is looking to the Congress to frame the legislation that can be brought to the administration. The debate that I've seen taking place since January the 7th has been much more intense than in earlier years. So I think we're seeing quite a bit of interest here.
You said it very well, the issue of immigration reform is incredibly complicated. And, in fact, the Immigration Nationality Act perhaps is the most complex set of laws in the nation. So I am looking for the Congress to come up with some legislation that we can work with.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, in all do respect, I have not seen the same intensity of debate up here that you have. We've had one-on the Senate side, one subcommittee hearing in the Judiciary Committee. This is the second committee structure hearing that I'm aware of, the only full committee hearing. And as Chairman Lugar said, we do not have jurisdiction over this. So, again, I'm at a loss to see where your intensity of debate is up here.
But that aside, what I'm trying to get at, has Secretary Ridge been up here, has Secretary Powell, has the vice president? Has anyone, senior members of the administration who can speak for the president, meeting with the leadership, Mr. Frist, Mr. Daschle, saying, we need this. This is what we need. Can you enlighten this panel as to what has happened in that regard? Mentioning it is good, but that doesn't move the ball.
MR. AGUIRRE: Well, Senator, I know that Secretary Ridge has been here to the Senate and the House numerous times. I'm not really keeping track of exactly the issues that he's talking about. I suspect this has come up, but I'd be-you know, I'd be less than exact by indicating that he has.
SEN. HAGEL: If any of the other panelists would want to join in on this, I'd be very pleased to hear from them.
MR. VERDERY: Sir, Senator Hagel, I know Undersecretary Hutchinson has been up here I believe three or four times, testifying on the budget and appropriations. This has been a topic that's come up in almost all of those sessions as to how the president's proposal would mesh with our enforcement efforts that are in the budget, ongoing programs, and propose new ones and the like. I also would like to offer-obviously a lot of this issue falls within our bailiwick on the enforcement side, both with the Customs and Border Protection at the ports of entry, Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the investigative side-to offer up our help with working with your staffs and the like, because these issues are really, really tricky. And as we sort through drilling down on the proposals, we'd like to work with you all on that.
SEN. HAGEL: Well, certainly there are budget implications and ramifications of any legislation, but this is not, quite frankly, gentlemen, a budget issue. It's a lot more than a budget issue. And let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, have you been instructed by the administration to come up and deal with leadership and committee chairman, Judiciary Committee, moving this thing? Is this a priority that you've been given by the White House to come up here and engage? When are we going to have hearings? When are we going to get this through? The president wants to get this done. Has that happened?
MR. VERDERY: Well, it's-I mean, we have been-it's clear this is an administrative priority. We're working very closely with the White House on fleshing out some of the more technical details behind the principles that were outlined. We are available and have been up here talking to staff. I think I'm testifying in a couple of weeks before Senate Judiciary and another hearing. So we want to make ourselves available, whether it's people at the undersecretary level, my level, our staff levels, to come up and flesh out these details. Of course we've been asked and of course would want to provide any information and any kind of insight that would be requested.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
MR. NORIEGA: Senator?
SEN. HAGEL: Yes.
MR. NORIEGA: If I could just offer that-I'd be happy to offer consultation with the leadership on this issue at any time.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
Mr. Verdery, would you assess the improvements made to security on the southern border since September 11th? And in your assessment of that, would you give this panel some sense of requirements for resources? Are you getting what you need? Do you need more? Do you need less? You got enough? But quickly round that out. What kind of progress have we made? How has that progress been made? What kind of resources are required now and into the future?
MR. VERDERY: Well, there's been a tremendous amount of achievement in the last two and a half years or so, and especially since our department was stood up just over a year ago. We have had a major increase in Border Patrol numbers, both in the personnel side and in the use of advanced technology, sensors and these types. In the ABC initiative I mentioned in my oral remarks, we'll be using unmanned vehicles for the first time on the southern border, unmanned aerial vehicles. We have reformed our ports of entry.
We have now the One Face at the Border Initiative, cross-training Immigration and Customs officials to do their jobs better and more efficiently. We will be installing US-VISIT, as I mentioned, at the land border at the end of this year, per the congressional mandate. We've reformed the cargo side of thing, as I mentioned, in terms of trying to screen high-risk cargo and separate out low-risk cargo, while giving the radiation screening we need for everything. So I see the time is up, but those are just a few of the things that we've been able to accomplish in the past year.
In terms of resources, the president's budget request has requested more resources over the last few years, has gotten those in the Congress. The '05 budget has additional requests which are obviously under consideration now.
SEN. HAGEL: I thank the gentleman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, thank you very much, Senator Hagel. I'll just make one comment and yield to Senator Dodd, because we want to give ample time to our next panel. But this is important too. Gentlemen, I just observed that the president, when he made the proposal with regard to immigration on January the 7th, I think exercised a great deal of political courage. I and others had encouraged the president to do such a thing, observing, as I have already, our conference with the Mexicans in December in which they felt they were hearing nothing. There was simply an absence of messages. So the president, in a very high profile way, indicated his interest and that of his administration, as you say, has framed these issues.
Now, frankly, the president's proposal was met with all sorts of criticism from all over the political spectrum for its inadequacy or its lack of focus on one factor or another, that to the point that I would now say the president fell back. As you have mentioned, Director Aguirre, the president's mentioned this in the State of the Union several times subsequently. But by the time we got here in late January, back into session, it was already clear that there was great conflict in the Congress with regard to all of this.
Now, I suggested then because of personal interest in this and the feeling of the members of our committee that we might have a hearing-and that was initially not discouraged by the administration, but people indicated, after all, the Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction on these things, they perhaps ought to have the hearing first, and so I understand that. And they have had a subcommittee hearing.
But the purpose of this hearing, quite frankly, is to try to begin to elevate the whole issue.
Again, in our own modest way, we cannot do it by ourselves, but we, in offering a forum for you to give very good testimony which we have today, plus an invitation to say more, or to come forward with proposals that are outside the box, as I said, on the economy as well as immigration, to get this agenda much more broadened and to send some signals to Mexican friends that we care, that we are actually talking about the relationship, what we might do, or to Canadian friends in a North American context, as you suggested. Any of the above.
So I'm hopeful at least we're achieving this partially by having this dialogue this morning in the form of this committee hearing. But we're prepared to do a lot more. And I think we all are needing some guidance as to the priorities that White House and/or State Department or Homeland Defense or what have you have on these issues. They are very technical. As Senator Dodd has said, not many days, it would require intense scrutiny. If, in fact, the thought is that this really is too much for this year and this is sort of a warm-up for the 2005 agenda, at least the three of us will all be around in 2005, likewise, and we will still be talking about it.
SEN. DODD: If that was an endorsement. I really appreciate it.
SEN. LUGAR: It's a suggestion that we might achieve in 2004, I would say to my distinguished colleague, and I hope that will be the case. And I yield to him for his sage (comments ?).
SEN. DODD: Thank you very much. I couldn't miss the opportunity to make a comment. Just a couple of points. And, again, the chairman has said it so well. I want to-being redundant by repeating the notion. And, look, I could spend what little time we have here and bemoan the fact that from-I recall when that wonderful first meeting that President Bush had with President Fox. I think it was the first-in fact, it was the first head of state, and the symbolic gesture of that is not lost on anyone. Of all the people he could meet with, the very first one was President Fox.
I remember being at President Fox's inaugural in Mexico. There's a tremendous sense of excitement about change what was going to happen. The number one issue with this issue for me, from the day one in 2000, the one issue that he has begged the United States to engage on is the immigration issue. As someone who's participated for 24 years I think without exception on the inter-parliamentary meetings with Mexico over the last quarter of a century. Every meeting we had was about this issue of immigration.
So I'm not going to do that. I'll just-let's take-I'll take good news. We began here in January. We've got an issue on the table. I want to underscore what the chairman has said here. You know, there are those of us who might look at this and say, look, this is great politics to talk about this right now. But let's be more candid with people.
With 36 or 40 days to go, and with all do respect, Mr. Secretaries, I've been around long enough to know I know when the administration really wants something, any administration, and when they're kind of lukewarm. I'm being polite by calling it lukewarm at this point. I don't get any sense at all about real energy behind this. And even if there were, I'm not sure you could get it done. Even if you were intensely interested in getting this done, I think it's very difficult.
But the absence-and Senator Hagel's being polite and the chairman's being polite and I want to be polite. I don't get any sense there's any movement on this at all, other than a good meeting, a good message, but little or no likelihood this is going to change. Now, prove me wrong in the next few days. You're waiting a couple of weeks for another hearing. Another couple of weeks up here. You know, time is flying by here to get this done.
So let me put that aside. Let me come back to something, because I think there are some things ongoing that can be important. And, again, I want to underscore what the chairman raised earlier about Pemex in a very excellent idea. And maybe, Secretary Noriega, you might bring this to councils and talk about it. But the Partnership for Prosperity is a two-year-old program, and the program to just reacquaint people with it was a public-private initiative to promote domestic and foreign investment in less developed areas of Mexico and high immigration rates.
And after two years of operation, there are some ideas that were raised. One was the introduction of new low-cost service to transfer funds from the United States to rural communities in Mexico, exploration of a Peace Corps program in Mexico to work on science and development projects, and the signing for the first time of an agreement for the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, to offer financial and risk insurance to U.S. firms operating in Mexico in these areas. Can you give us any sense of what's happened with this?
MR. NORIEGA: Yes, we have made meaningful strides on this, Senator. In terms of entrepreneurship, in terms of lowering the cost of remittances, in terms of the university linkages, the establishment of a Peace Corps program in Mexico for the first time, all of these things have been done, are underway too. We're continuing to work on all of these issues in Guadalajara. In June we'll have a second meeting. The last meeting brought together 800 Mexican and U.S. entrepreneurs to look at opportunities on both sides of the border. But in these areas of Mexico that are --
SEN. DODD: How is that going? Tell me how that's going. That seems to be a very important idea.
MR. NORIEGA: It has generated some ventures, some joint ventures, some investment. It has encouraged universities to establish linkages between universities on both sides of the border, and I can get you some examples on that.
SEN. DODD: Okay.
MR. NORIEGA: We believe that it is a meaningful exercise. But the simple fact that we've been able to work together and lower the cost of sending remittances back by I think at least by half is meaningful, because that's money that instead of going into a financial transaction is going back to families. And you talk about a base number of about $13 billion, $14 billion annually. That's a lot of money going into households in Mexico.
SEN. DODD: Are you familiar with the effort by George Soros that he has done to establish a housing mortgage market for the first time in Mexico under the Partnership for Prosperity? Familiar with that?
MR. NORIEGA: I'm not particularly familiar with his effort, but I'm aware that it exists.
SEN. DODD: Well, listen, what I'd like to maybe ask is maybe have a private meeting. Not that it has to be private, but just rather than take the time here. But I'd be very interested in fleshing out more where these ideas are going, including the Pemex idea the chairman has raised. I mean, these are the kind of bigger ideas. Getting remittances back is a great idea, I understand that. But it seems to me we ought to be trying to get beyond the notion of remittances, and improving the economic opportunities in Mexico goes to the heart of this issue.
MR. NORIEGA: Senator, may I commend on that very briefly, that we are consciously going to use all of the mechanisms that we have in our bilateral relationship. For example, we have this bi-national commission, 14 working groups bringing together ministers across-in both of our governments that meet annually. We are, for the first time, looking to program that agenda from the top, proactively saying, okay, these are the things that President Bush and President Fox want these working groups to work on. I've actually communicated with Mexican congressmen about taking some issues to the Inter- Parliamentary Group that you participate in, the North American context. We're looking at making some initiatives there too. So across the board we are working systematically on big vision issues as well as the smaller issues --
SEN. DODD: Well, let's arrange that so we can hear what's going on. I would just point out, as I mentioned earlier, I know that Speaker Hastert, for instance, has indicated there's little or no likelihood this immigration bill is going anywhere in this Congress. And I hope the administration will challenge that comment if, in fact, you're committed to this proposal as you claim you are today.
I didn't go in, Mr. Chairman, to some of the detailed questions on the proposals. Things, for instance, of requiring that fines be paid by the undocumented workers if they register.
I see no corollary requirement that the employees who hired them pay a fine as well, for instance. There are a lot of very specific questions I'd have about some of these proposals and how we get people to sign up, in fact, for this, whether or not the cost of registration and so forth-all of the obvious questions people would raise.
And I might submit some detailed questions to you, Secretary Aguirre, so that you could respond to some of these things, at least based on the outlines that you proposed here. And if you're serious about this-and I hope you utilize the hearing that the chairman has provided. Prove me wrong. I'd love to be proven wrong on this. I'd love to be proven wrong on this. I'd love to have you come back up here, starting tomorrow-and I think tomorrow may be late. But to come back up with a proposal on the table and really pursue this. You'll find a lot of people up here are very aggressively wanting to help you, if that's the case.
If it's not the case, then I think it's very important to say that, and to say, look, we need to come back to this next year. Let's use these next few months to try and flesh out details. And whether it's the Bush administration or a Kerry administration, here's some ideas that we put on the table for you to take forward. And that I think could be a tremendous positive step forward on this issue. So I'd encourage some real candor about this proposal. There's nothing worse than raising expectations I hear, getting people all excited about a proposal that no one's really taking very seriously. Thank you.
MR. AGUIRRE: Senator, I look forward to your written questions and of course I'll respond. I know the White House has met with the Judiciary Committee, but I'd be happy to engage with you at all granularity that you'd like.
SEN. DODD: Thanks.
SEN. LUGAR: And let me just say, Senator Dodd, your questions will be made a part of the record and hopefully responses will come. And likewise, I make that request for Senator Coleman, who has left questions. And the record of the hearing will be left open today in case other members who have not been present but are interested in the subject can be a part of this.
SEN. NELSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, one of the continuing festering frustrations over NAFTA was the side agreement reached with regard to tomatoes. And Mexico did not keep its part on that side agreement on tomatoes, and as a result we have on winter vegetable crop lost a great deal of the share of the market. What's the latest on this?
MR. NORIEGA: Senator, I'll have to get you an answer in writing on the details of that. I know that we have been addressing these disputes through the dispute resolution mechanisms of NAFTA, but I do not-I don't have the details. I'll have to get you a detailed answer to that.
SEN. NELSON: Okay. I would appreciate that. Now, one of the areas that we've heard some dissatisfaction is about Mexican-the government's failure to live up to its obligations regarding the NAFTA dispute panels. How have the trade disputes affected our bilateral relationship?
MR. NORIEGA: We have important issues on tomatoes, tuna, trucking beef, chicken that for various reasons, whether it's sanitary requirements or high fructose corn syrup, these are important issues that we-across the board that we have in our relationship. It's an important relationship where trade between our two countries has tripled in the period of NAFTA that we do have these unresolved issues that we use the trade dispute resolution mechanisms, we have just, for example, on the corn syrup issue, asked for a panel in WTO or NAFTA. So it is-clearly we have these mechanisms to deal with them, and if we're not getting satisfaction on the tomato issue or on other issues, I'll try to get you a specific answer about measures that we can take, concrete steps that we can take to push for some sort of satisfaction for U.S. producers.
SEN. NELSON: Have these disputes harmed our bilateral relationship?
MR. NORIEGA: They don't do the relationship any good, but we understand that on both sides there are going to be disagreements. And what we've resolved to do with our trade agreements is to channel these disputes to particular mechanisms for resolving them in a transparent, technical way. But they do-clearly when we have disagreements that affect our producers or consumers, and they would feel the same way on the Mexican side, this does have an impact on the relationship.
SEN. NELSON: It appears that President Fox has taken a more activist role in bolstering ties with his Latin American neighbors, including the MERCOSUR countries. How can we, as the United States government, best convince him and his government to use its relationship with Cuba to criticize the crackdown on human rights, as evidenced that we just passed through the one-year anniversary of Castro putting dissident-journalist dissidents who dared to set up libraries, who dared to sign the Varela petition, and he threw them in jail a year ago. How can we use our relationship to convince President Fox that he needs to stand up and criticize Cuba for this kind of activity that has been condemned by previous friends of Cuba who were shocked when Castro threw all those folks in jail?
MR. NORIEGA: President Fox has criticized during his period of time in office Castro for human rights violations. Mexico usually votes, for example, for a resolution in Geneva that would criticize or take note of the continuing violations of human rights by Castro's regime. I know that in the last several weeks we've discussed this Cuba issue with Mexico and we have indicated our interest and they have indicated their interest to work with us, quite frankly, to find ways to encourage a transition and then to respond in an agile and decisive way to a transition once one is underway to make sure that the sorts of political and economic reforms we get in Cuba are deep enough to wash away the vestiges of the regime.
But we will be counting on Mexico to play a leadership role, frankly, in this vote in Geneva. We hope that they will work with us to encourage Latin American countries to co-sponsor and support that resolution.
SEN. NELSON: Do you think Mexico will say something publicly about throwing dissidents in jail?
MR. NORIEGA: I will get you a record of what they have said to date, sir, because I don't want to suggest that they haven't said anything. I just don't have anything in mind. And I'll get you a specific answer on what they are able to do and what they're able to do working with us on the Geneva process, which will specifically, we hope, make reference to the crackdown.
SEN. NELSON: Do you think we can get Mexico involved in Haiti, in the rebuilding of that country.
MR. NORIEGA: The Mexicans have indicated an interest to provide some sort of humanitarian support and diplomatic support for our efforts. They have some sensitive issues in terms of deploying security forces, so that may not be possible. But we have worked with Mexico in the OAS on Haiti, and we hope that will continue.
SEN. LUGAR: Well, thank you very much, Senator Nelson.
I thank each of you again for coming with your testimony and your forthcoming responses. Obvious you have a group here in our committee that would encourage you to press on, and so we look forward to hearing much more from you. I thank you for coming.
MR. AGUIRRE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. LUGAR: The chair would like to recognize now a distinguished panel composed of Dr. Stephen E. Flynn, James-rather the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in National Security Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Demetrious G. Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute. Dr. Arturo A. Valenzuela, director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University.
Gentlemen, we welcome you to the committee meeting today. We thank you for your patience in waiting to this point in the hearing, but we look forward to your statements. Let me say at the outset the statements that you have prepared will be put in the record in full, so you need not ask for additional permission with regard to that. And we'll ask you to summarize or to present really, as fully as you think is important, your ideas, because that's the purpose of our hearing, in having these independent voices outside of the Senate and the administration.
I'll ask you to testify in the order that I introduced you, and that would mean that we would ask you, Dr. Flynn, to lead off.
MR. STEPHEN E. FLYNN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm honored to be here today. I'm Stephen Flynn, senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm also a former Coast Guard officer, retired after 20 years, and recently had the opportunity to direct our Task Force on Homeland Security at the council, was co-led by your former colleagues, Senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman.
And I'd like to sort of start maybe by raising rather I think a rather sad irony of the reality of the U.S.-Mexican relationship post- 9/11. Because, interestingly, of course, a recognition of the losing of steam has been-with that relationship has been couched in terms of that, because of the security imperatives of the post-9/11 world, we had to slow it down. I would suggest in my testimony that, in fact, that has-our failure to address this issue has, in fact, confounded our security situation, not the opposite. And indeed a bit of irony.