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Foster finds border security needs enhancement while on fact-finding mission
By James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/22/2008 12:06 AM

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The road to better security at the Mexican border might involve the construction of an actual road if Congressman Bill Foster has anything to say about it.

The Geneva Democrat will conclude a four-day trip to various spots along the border today. The trip was inspired by the wide variety of views Foster's constituents in the 14th District have on immigration.

One of the main ideas Foster developed on the trip came after he stood from a vantage point in California that provided an overview of the illegal immigration problem.

"The enormity of the problem was really driven home to me when I stood on a peak and you could see that the fence in California starts at the ocean and ends at the desert," Foster said. "One one side is a Mexican City of 2.3 million people living in not very good conditions. And you could also see the tracks of people trying to cross the border leading up into the mountains."

That view, plus multiple conversations with border officials, convinced Foster one of the main things needed is an access road that would allow patrols to travel among all the various problem zones with ease and speed. However, Foster warned such a road would not be cheap. It would stretch the entire length of the border, some 2,000 miles, and cost tens of billions of dollars to construct.

Foster said he spent a lot of time reviewing the various forms of technology used by officers at the border to police incursions. Such technology ranged from the very successful, such as X-ray machines that scan vehicles to sort what belongs in a car from smuggled items, to the not so successful radar systems that fail during heavy storms. Foster believes the radar and other electronic monitoring devices can be successful in areas of the border where the landscape is relatively flat if the software is updated.

Other problems don't seem to have an obvious easy answer, Foster said. Such problems include rampant tunneling in areas where vehicle traffic is too great for vibration microphones to reliably detect the digging. It's not uncommon for people to tunnel directly into American sewer systems when entering the country illegally.

Foster said the overall answer to slowing illegal immigration is a mix of more fences, more agents and more technology.

"This is not a cheap or an easy problem," Foster said. "Agents have to stop immigrants who are trying to sneak into the United States. They have to stop drug smugglers, which is a small number of the illegal crossings. And they have to stop terrorists."

The other side of the problem is what to do with illegal immigrants already in the U.S. Foster said he listened to border crossing agents who were genuinely choked-up by some of the stories illegal immigrants tell about why they are trying to get into the country. Foster doesn't blame people who want to come to the U.S., but he believes in creating expedient, legal methods for doing so. That also means punishing businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Dozens of illegal immigrants were recently discovered in multiple raids in the neighboring 6th Congressional District.

"They key element here is workplace enforcement," Foster said. "You have to give businesses a simple and reliable method of telling if anyone they want to employ is here legally. And having done that, you have the right to demand that employers only hire people who are legal."

Foster's Republican challenger, dairy magnate Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, said his opponent's plan would give illegal border crossers a new road to hop on once they cross into the states. He added that the solution isn't as complex as Foster is painting it to be.

"Enforce our laws. It's really that simple," Oberweis said in a telephone interview. "If we enforce our laws against companies that are taking advantage of people here illegally (by employing them), we will end the economic incentive for people to break those laws."