Chertoff Pledges to Fight Lawsuits Targeting Border Security

WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pledged to fight all lawsuits against his efforts to secure the border, ranging from building fences to requiring new driver's licenses.

Chertoff on Tuesday blamed lawsuits like one blocking his department from using Social Security information and another trying to prevent fence construction on the Arizona-Mexico border as part of the reason the federal government has had trouble getting control of the border for the past 30 years.

"I will fight every lawsuit. I will deal with every procedural roadblock. I will use every tool the law allows to continue to press forward in the enforcement of laws," Chertoff said.

Chertoff conducted a multimedia presentation to give a status report on his department's attempt to tighten immigration enforcement with existing laws and regulations to "try to fill the gap left open by Congress' failure to act to address the challenges comprehensively."

He hinged some of the agency's future border security work, such as building a total 670-mile (1,078-kilometer) border fence, on getting more money from Congress.

But negotiators who drafted a compromise defense spending bill stripped the measure of $3 billion (?2 billion) in emergency border security money.

The money is already in a Homeland Security Department spending bill but President George W. Bush is threatening to veto that measure.

The achievements Chertoff named for the fiscal year 2007 that ended Sept. 30 include:

-- Built more than 76 miles (122 kilometers) of fence, for a total of 106 miles (170 kilometers) of pedestrian fence and 115 miles (185 kilometers) of vehicle fence on the Southwest border.

-- Hired about 15,000 agents.

-- Apprehensions fell 22 percent at the U.S.-Mexican border, indicating fewer illegal crossings.

-- The number of businesses using a system that allows them to check whether workers are legal rose from 11,474 in 2006 fiscal year to 24,463 this year.

Chertoff said the agency plans to send to the White House's Office of Management and Budget this week proposed changes to rules for the H2-A temporary agriculture worker program to relieve worker shortages.

Chertoff declined to provide specifics on the proposal, but said he is trying to "streamline some of the requirements with respect to wages" and other requirements. He said he wants sensible changes but also wants to keep worker protections in place.

Employers consider the H2-A program cumbersome and many hire undocumented workers rather than use the program.

Growers and immigrant advocates had hoped Congress would pass immigrant agricultural worker legislation known as AgJobs as part of the farm bill.