Tighter borders affect Highlands
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - The White House has reported illegal border crossings have decreased 50 percent in the past five years; and there has been noticeable effect in Highlands County, Sheriff Susan Benton said.
Published: February 21, 2013
Published: February 21, 2013
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said significant progress has been made as the Obama administration has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology and resources to the Southwest border the last four years.
Attempts to cross the border illegally totaled nearly 365,000 nationwide in fiscal year 2012, a nearly 50 percent decrease since fiscal 2008 and a 78 percent decrease from the peak in fiscal 2000, according to a White House press release.
From fiscal 2009 to 2012, Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized 71 percent more currency, 39 percent more drugs and 189 percent more weapons along the southwest border, compared with fiscal 2005 to 2008.
There was a corresponding decrease in Highlands County Jail, Benton said. In fiscal 2007-08, 181 inmates were held for ICE, 153 in fiscal 2009, 93 in fiscal 2010, 107 in fiscal 2011 and 104 in fiscal 2012.
However, Benton said, ICE changed its rules about which prisoners it would pick up, and the jail's numbers reflect that policy change.
"In the past, they picked up more people than what they do now," Benton said. .
"There are (fewer immigrants) coming in," Benton said. "I've heard that from the agriculture community as well."
Will Bennett, operations manager for Management Experts Inc., an Avon Park company that helps help companies throughout the nation find legal sources of labor, said one side-effect of the illegal immigration crackdown has been to cut the supply of legal workers.
Bennett suggested that the president and Congress focus on the core issues of work permits and visa permits for legal immigration workers.
The current system is not easy to use, he said. "It doesn't allow the employer to question documents."
Even if workers present what might be questionable documents, employers are required by anti-discrimination laws to hire otherwise eligible workers, Bennett said.
Although the average wage offered to agriculture workers is now $9.52, Bennett said, "We still can't get U.S. workers to do the job."
"The key part is access to legal labor that will work for the price," Bennett said.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said Sunday that Obama wants to "be prepared" in case a small, bipartisan group of senators fails to devise a plan for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
"We will be prepared with our own plan if these ongoing talks between Republicans and Democrats up on Capitol Hill break down," McDonough said. In response, lawmakers assured the White House they are working on their own plan, and warned Obama would be heading toward failure if the White House gets ahead of them.
"If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in Congress, leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the eight lawmakers searching for a comprehensive plan. He has been a leading GOP spokesman on immigration.
Rubio's office said Obama's plan "injected additional partisanship into an already difficult process." Following the weekend leak of its draft legislation, the White House insisted the president wants the bipartisan Senate group to propose its own bill instead. Rubio's office also criticized the president's proposals for not including a guest worker program or a plan for dealing with the future flow of immigrants.
Obama spoke with Rubio on Tuesday to reiterate his commitment to the Senate process, and to clarify that he had his own legislation ready, the White House said. The president also called Republicans Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, two other GOP lawmakers involved in the immigration negotiations.
"Congressman Rooney is waiting for details on the Senate plan," said spokesman Mike Mahaffey. Rooney, R-Okeechobee, represents Highlands County. "Any plan must improve the process for Florida's farmers to hire seasonal workers in order to get his support."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.