This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," November 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: For the past year, we've been reporting extensively on this program about the crisis of illegal immigration and the threat that it poses to America. Now, our travels have taken us from the desert south to Tucson, Arizona, to the banks of the Rio Grande River, and we've walked along the fence in El Paso, Texas.
And as we continue our search for answers to all the problems that we've seen this year, my latest trip has brought me here, to our nation's capital, where earlier today I had the chance to speak exclusively with the man in charge of securing our borders, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.
HANNITY: You and I have discussed at length the issue of immigration.
And I say, and tell me if you agree, that the number one area of vulnerability and susceptibility we have to terror is at our borders.
Do you agree with that statement?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think that there is no question the front line of defense is at the border.
And we do have to worry about the large number of people who come in and the large amount of cargo that comes in. And that's the kind of potential threat, even if it's only one out of a million, that we have to spend our resources focusing on.
HANNITY: Because you had made a controversial statement, and you seem to be backing off of it now, and it was that people that are here illegally, that they all ought to be sent back.
And it seems like now you've sort of backed off that position a little bit, because there are million that we estimate that are in this country illegally.
Why wouldn't we send them back?
CHERTOFF: Well, what I said, Sean, was this. I said everybody that we apprehend, that we catch at the border, who's coming in illegally, we ought to send back, and we don't do that right now because we've been limited in terms of our capacity to hold people in detention until they go back, but also, frankly, because some of our foreign allies are a little reluctant to take people back who have tried to get into the country illegally.
We've got to really push on that issue, and that means we've got to get more beds. And we also have to ask our friends overseas to step up to the plate and take back people that rightfully ought to be going back.
So that's a large piece of what we have to do.
I also recognize we've got, according to some estimates, 10 to 11 million illegals already in this country working. And the cost of identifying all of those people and sending them back would be stupendous. It would be billions and billions of dollars.
One of the reasons I think that we've been focusing on the idea of a temporary worker program as part of a larger strategy for border security is because it would be a way to siphon off people who really want to do nothing more than work here, put them into a regulated program — we would know who they are — we would then be able to send them back at the end of a period of three years or six years. They would have made some money, they could take it back home, and then we could focus our other resources on the people that don't want to do it the right way, and we could get those people sent out.
HANNITY: Why — in that sense, aren't you really rewarding those that didn't respect our laws and sovereignty? In other words, OK, you're saying, you came into this country illegally.
Now that we've identified you, we're going to let you even stay longer and make money, and then you can go back in three to six years.
Why don't we say, no, you're here illegally, you didn't respect our laws, you ought to go home? Why don't we just say that?
CHERTOFF: Well, Sean, you know, it's really an issue of practicality.
I mean, as a practical matter, we've got to identify these people and pull them out of the shadows.
Now, this is not an amnesty. This is not — the president's proposal is not a path to citizenship. It's clearly temporary, and it clearly envisions people who would have to commit to go back.
They would make some money and they would take it back home with them.
What this would let us do is acknowledge the reality that we've got hundreds and thousands of employers all over this country who are employing illegal aliens. Sometimes, individual citizens employing people in their home.
And obviously, there is a market, a demand that's pulling people across the border. If we don't address that demand, we're really tying, at least one if not both of our hands, in addressing this very large problem.
HANNITY: I am convinced, having been down to the border in San Diego and Arizona and in that corner of El Paso, New Mexico and Mexico, I'm convinced — and I've seen up close and personal — when the Border Patrol are given the infrastructure and they're given the manpower and they choose a particular area that they want to cordon off, they are capable of doing it.
The problem is, there aren't enough men on the border, and there isn't enough infrastructure for them.
Should we consider immediately quadrupling the number of border agents and giving them all the infrastructure they need as a means of ensuring that we secure off that border?
And that's something that's not been forthcoming even four years after 9/11?
CHERTOFF: Well, of course, since 9/11 we've increased the Border Patrol by 3,000.
Just in the last year, we had a supplemental in the summary we've had in another budget, appropriation this fall, adding 1,500 Border Patrol.
Right now, our capacity for training really is fully stretched. Because it is obviously not an easy job, to train a Border Patrol agent. It's very dangerous work on the border. We've got a UAV we've now leased we're putting up on the border.
The military is letting us use some of their UAVs for training purposes.
That gives us additional visibility.
I authorized the completion of the San Diego fence, which languished for years because of environmental litigation.
We're putting up more border infrastructure. And this is the kind of thing we want to continue to add. We want to add more Border Patrol. We want to add more fencing.
We want to add more sensors.
HANNITY: To do the job properly, how many more border agents would you need, and how much more infrastructure would you need to build, and how fast can you do it?
CHERTOFF: Well, a couple of questions there. I've asked the chief to sit down with the people from both Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol, everybody who is involved in the process.
I've said, look, let's map very carefully what is the right mix of technology, infrastructure and agents.
Let's come up with a number and let's put that number out there.
We know we're going to have to add more of each. We need to get the right mix, so we're very efficient.
But even as we speak and as we're doing the planning, we're rolling out the infrastructure.
We're rolling out the cameras. We're rolling out the Border Patrol agents.
We're getting the UAVs.
HANNITY: Do you then foresee a day in the next two, three years where it's impenetrable?
Can we actually create security where nobody is going to be able to cross the border because we have enough infrastructure and have enough manpower?
I mean, is that day coming?
I think we have...
HANNITY: How soon would that be?
CHERTOFF: I think we have a day coming. I can't give you dates. It is not going to happen overnight.
It is not even going to happen in one year, but I think what we're building to over the next — over the next two to three years is a system where we have control over the border, and what that means is, such a high likelihood of catching somebody, and not releasing them into the community but sending them back, that we actually stop people from coming across the border.
Sean, let me tell you, we've actually achieved this in some respects. We've run pilot programs, for example, involving Brazilians, where we've said we're not going to release Brazilians. We're going to hold them all in detention until they get sent back, and we saw within a couple of months a measurable decrease in the number of Brazilians coming across the border, proving that if we're consistent in applying these kinds of techniques across the border, we can actually have a deterrent effect.
HANNITY: More of my interview with Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff coming up right after the break.
ALAN COLMES, Co-Host: We continue now with more of Sean's exclusive interview with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
HANNITY: The only thing I would respectfully question you on or disagree with you slightly on is those that are here illegally, those that didn't respect the laws of the United States or our sovereignty, I want to go back to that question again, because basically you're saying they can stay.
There are many people, Mr. Secretary, that would say in that respect, we're rewarding their illegal activity, that they, too, like the people that you do catch at the border, ought to be sent back, and a strong message is sent, that if we're going to have highly coveted positions to immigrate to the United States, that they're going to be given to the people who go through the process properly, and you don't get an extra six years if you don't respect the process.
CHERTOFF: Well, let me tell you where we're going to go with this, because I think you're right.
We clearly don't want to reward people for wrongdoing, and that's why we've said no amnesty.
What we want to do is we want to, again, create a system where we do have — give people an opportunity to regularize themselves, but with certain strict conditions. At the other end of the spectrum, where we catch people, where people don't regularize themselves, we want to send them back, and in fact, we want to punish them.
And we also want to punish employers who don't use the legally available channel for getting workers across to do temporary work.
And that's tough. I mean, a lot of people are not going to like the fact that we're cracking down on employers who — we're doing it now in nuclear plants, we're doing it now in critical infrastructure.
Eventually, a large part of our strategy has to be to say, if you hire illegals, if you don't check out who they are, if you don't properly examine their credentials, you're going to get sanctioned.
HANNITY: There is a "Washington Post" story this morning that, you know, after Katrina, you admitted publicly some mistakes that were made by the department, that you're vowing to reshape the Department of Homeland Security.
Let's go through Katrina.
What mistakes do you think were made?
What did you learn from it, and how will that affect where you're going in terms of a cabinet position here?
CHERTOFF: Well, I think what I said to Congress was I think most of the mistakes really are a function of insufficient planning and preparedness. That means we've got to plan not only under the rosy scenario, but under the worst-case scenario.
And we didn't have the capability in this department when I came in here to do the kind of planning the military does when they wage a war campaign, where they spend a year or two actually planning every detail of a campaign, and then it unfolds very readily from that plan.
We have to build that capability.
The president approved and Congress now appropriated money just a couple of weeks ago to allow us to build a preparedness capability.
We've got — the president has nominated a very, very experienced homeland security emergency manager to head that operation up.
We've asked the military to lend us some planners.
We're going to build that planning capability for the first time.
So when the next catastrophe occurs, we can really integrate our response, the military's response, state and local response, with a very hard-headed, realistic approach to making sure we can respond.
HANNITY: When people look at Katrina, or the government's response, or the state's response or the local response and they say it was inefficient, you know, what do we then do if there is a WMD attack or a major attack on U.S. soil like we saw on 9/11, people, their confidence seems to have been shaken?
What do you say to the average American whose confidence is shaken?
CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, of course Katrina was by any measure an extraordinary catastrophe.
In fact, if you compare it to 9/11, although more people lost their lives on 9/11, 9/11 was over in two or three hours, and the rescue effort there was really something that could unfold in relative peace and quiet over a short period of time thereafter.
Katrina was, however, a tremendous wakeup call and a great lesson.
We learned a lot from that.
Part of what we owe the victims of Katrina and the rest of the country is to put those lessons into effect as quickly as we can, and that's what we're doing. And we've — you know, I've sat down with military leaders, I've sat down with state and local government folks.
We're actively reviewing, as the president ordered us to do, the emergency plans for state and local governments.
And part of what we've said is, look, don't paint a rosy scenario when you plan. Let's talk about all the things that can go wrong. Let's talk about breakdowns that can happen in terms of communications, in terms of public order. Look what's happening in France now. Sometimes you have to be prepared to come in with almost overwhelming assets and overwhelming resources in order to stabilize a situation, and I think those are some important takeaways from Katrina.
HANNITY: You're sort of in a position, being the secretary of Homeland Security, where you know you're going to get hit, you know emergencies are going to occur, in many, many ways, and no matter what happens, it seems like you're in a position you're going to get blamed.
Do you feel like that a little bit?
CHERTOFF: Well, it's not the kind of job you take if you are looking to get a lot of pats on the back.
As I said earlier, Sean, my best day is a day when nothing happens. And if I leave this job and people say, wow, nothing much happened on his watch, you know, that would be a tremendous victory as far as I'm concerned.
But I'm too realistic to believe that is going to happen. I know things are going to happen over the next few years.
You know, we've been through Katrina. I lived through 9/11 at the criminal division.
My job is to get us as prepared as we can in every respect, to face the kind of challenges we have.
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