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OPINION

When Will Obama Tell the Truth About What's Going On Along Our Southern Border?

At a town hall meeting in Washington, D.C. on Monday, President Obama once again called for comprehensive immigration reform, which would legalize millions of illegal immigrants.

Administration officials are now touting their so-called record on immigration enforcement and border security. It seems they are trying to convince the American people that their approach is working and that the legalization of illegal immigrants will fix any lingering problems.

But when comparing the Obama administration’s rhetoric with their record, it appears their words do not match reality.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently made comments that the administration’s approach to border security is working. Because deportations are up, apprehensions are down and more resources have been deployed to the border, the administration assumes the border is more secure than ever.

But it appears the administration has exaggerated its record. According to a December 2010 Washington Post article, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials used questionable methods to achieve their record deportation numbers.

In fact, ICE included more than 19,000 immigrants who had exited the previous fiscal year. They also continued operation of a Mexican repatriation program five weeks longer than they had done previously, allowing the agency to count at least 6,500 exits that would not have otherwise been included.

And ICE utilized Voluntary Return to bolster deportation numbers. But Voluntary Return is not removal because it does not subject an illegal immigrant to penalties for returning to the United States.

Even more alarming, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the Border Patrol only has “operational control” of 44% of the Southern border. And of that, only 15% is “air tight.”

The GAO also found that efforts by Border Patrol to stop illegal crossings were “poor.” During the last fiscal year, over 460,000 individuals were apprehended trying to enter the country illegally – and those are just the ones we caught. It is estimated that there are three successful illegal crossings for every one thwarted. That means more than a million illegal immigrants enter the U.S. each year.

Drug-related violence along the Southwest border and in Mexico also continues to rise.

In the last five years, more than 34,000 people have been killed in Mexico due to drug-related violence. And the violence threatens to spill over into the United States.

To secure the border, we should fully honor the request made by the governors of Border States for National Guard troops to be stationed at the border. The administration has only partially fulfilled this request and the troops are scheduled to be removed this summer.

We should also complete the border fence. In San Diego, after a double layer fence was constructed, illegal crossings and apprehensions declined by 95 percent. Completion of the border fence would strike a devastating blow to drug trafficking and illegal immigration.

Officials at ICE also have said that they increased the number of audits of companies’ employment eligibility verification forms they filled out for their employees. These are commonly referred to as “I-9 audits.”

While it is true that fines and audits are both up, it is what happens immediately afterwards that is most important.

Through the audits, ICE is essentially telling employers to fire their illegal workers. But rather than arresting the illegal immigrants and holding them for deportation, the Administration is letting them walk down the street to the next employer.

And rather than consider criminal charges against businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants, ICE is simply slapping them with a fine. Many businesses view these paltry fines as a cost of doing business. Most don’t change their hiring practices.

Unfortunately, the administration has all but abandoned effective worksite enforcement actions. There have been fewer arrests of illegal workers, fewer criminal arrests, fewer indictments and fewer convictions under this administration.

Audits alone will not suffice, we need action. That means the full enforcement of our immigration laws. We should also expand E-Verify, a web-based program that enables companies to hire legal workers by verifying the Social Security numbers provided by newly hired employees.

Without worksite enforcement, we can’t stop employers from hiring illegal workers. And if we don’t stop employers from hiring illegal immigrants, we can’t put a stop to the jobs magnet. And as long as the jobs magnet exists, millions of illegal immigrants will come to the U.S. and take jobs from lawful workers.

While the Obama administration claims their approach is working, the truth is that the Southwest border remains porous and seven million illegal immigrants work in the United States. The administration’s immigration enforcement and border security strategies cannot be effective if it amounts to little more than spin. The American people are smart enough not to buy into the false promise that legalizing millions of illegal immigrants will secure the border and reduce illegal immigration.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.