Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff sat down with a handful of bloggers yesterday to talk about some of the issues facing his department, including completion of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, compliance with Real ID and the prospects of immigration reform in 2008.
Following his somewhat contentious testimony to Congress yesterday, Chertoff used the interview to dispel myths associated with the Real ID law, which has come under attack from liberals and civil liberties groups who incorrectly call it a national ID. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) accused Chertoff of “bullying” states in order to get them to comply with the stricter licensing requirements.
Chertoff’s department has clashed with several states in the past few weeks over compliance with Real ID. One last holdout, Maine, agreed to enact tougher licensing requirements this week in exchange for a waiver that allowed its residents to use their driver’s license to board airplanes. Chertoff said the biggest hurdle with states involves the cost of compliance.
The interview also afforded Chertoff an opportunity to make clear his desire to complete the long-awaited fence along the U.S.-Mexico border without interference from environmentalists. He said the pace at which a similar fence was built near San Diego — which took 14 years to complete just 11 miles of fence — was unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated.
Chertoff said his department is working feverishly to complete 670 miles of the fence this year — 370 pedestrian and 300 vehicle — ensuring that the next administration wouldn’t be able to derail the plan.
The interview also touched on Chertoff’s views about Rep. Health Shuler’s (D-N.C.) immigration bill, known as the SAVE Act. The bill has run into resistance in recent days as liberals may try to keep it from coming to a vote. He also spoke about the Social Security no-match letters and offered an update on H-2B visas.