Advisory Group Urges Freeze on Construction of Border Fence

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; 2:26 PM

Members of an influential Washington think tank today recommended major changes in the nation's immigration policy, including freezing construction of a security fence along the U.S.- Mexican border and suspending "zero-tolerance" prosecution programs against all people caught crossing segments of the border.

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan group whose presenters included former U.S. immigration chiefs under both parties, recommended 36 steps the Obama administration can take without congressional approval to alter policies developed during the Bush administration. The policy experts also urged withdrawing a plan to pressure employers to fire workers with suspect Social Security numbers.

One of the group members, Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, informally consulted with Obama aides during the transition. Janet Napolitano, President Obama's Homeland Security Secretary, has already announced a broad internal assessment of DHS policies.

"Regardless of how or whether Congress and the White House ultimately come to agreement on new immigration legislation, the DHS immigration agencies require policy and operational changes to improve their effectiveness and ability to implement existing laws," said Meissner, a co-author of the MPI report, titled "DHS and Immigration: Taking Stock and Correcting Course."

Donald Kerwin, MPI vice president for programs and co-author of the recommendations, said the report was intended to provide "a middle course" for the administration, between enforcement-only advocates who seek to restrict immigration and business and immigrant community advocates who seek less fettered flows of people. The report limited itself to immediate steps DHS can take without further reorganization.

Overall, the authors suggested that DHS target enforcement against criminal networks that sustain large-scale illegal migration and that could aid terrorists; against employers who rely on illegal workers to gain unfair competitive advantage or whom terrorists may attempt to infiltrate; and routinely bring criminal charges against individuals only when they are repeat-offenders or have committed unrelated crimes.

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