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Remarks on the Immigration Policy Initiative and an Exchange With Reporters

February 07, 1995

The President. Good morning. Two years ago, when I took office, I was determined to do a better job of dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. About 2 years ago this week, when I discussed with Janet Reno the possibility of her becoming Attorney General, we had a talk about this, and for the last 2 years we have been hard at work to try to fix a system that everyone agreed had serious problems.

The Vice President and I have just been briefed by Attorney General Reno; Doris Meissner, the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service; our Secretary of Labor, Bob Reich; Maria Echaveste, the Director of the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department; Silvestre Reyes, Chief Border Patrol Agent of the El Paso Sector; Gus de la Vina, the Director of the Western Region of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; Doug Crum, the U.S. Border Patrol Chief; and George Weise, our Customs Commissioner.

After our meeting, I signed a Presidential directive to the heads of all executive departments instructing them to very quickly expand and strengthen our program to reduce illegal immigration in four key areas: first, protecting our borders; second, protecting the interests of our workers in the workplace; third, removing more criminal aliens; and fourth, providing more assistance to the States which are burdened with the problem of illegal immigration.

For example, I've asked the Attorney General to increase those elements of our Border Patrol strategy that are proving most effective, including the use of helicopters, night scopes, and all-terrain vehicles. I've asked the members of the Cabinet to create for the first time a national detention and removal plan to dramatically increase the identification and removal of deportable illegal aliens. These are just a few examples, and of course you'll get more in a moment when the people behind me give a more extensive background briefing.

One of the cornerstones of our fight against illegal immigration has been a get-tough policy at our borders. We initiated Operation Hold the Line at El Paso, Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, and Operation Safeguard in Arizona, all with one clear intention, to secure the Southwest border. As we speak, these initiatives are making a substantial difference. Illegal immigration is down; crime is down. And my budget in immigration strategy builds on that success. Here are the elements of the initiative:

First, I have asked Congress for an additional $1 billion to fight illegal immigration in the coming fiscal year. I want to emphasize that while most of the talk yesterday was about cutting the budget, and we do have $140 billion in budget cuts, there are some things we should spend more money on. We recommended spending more money on education, on medical research in AIDS, on crime, in the community policing bill, on veterans interests. And we recommended a billion more dollars to fight illegal immigration. Under the budgets already passed, we've added 1,000 new Border Patrol agents just in the Southwest. By the end of 1996, our administration will have increased overall border personnel by 51 percent since 1993.

Second, I've asked for more funds to protect American jobs by increasing the number of workplace investigators by 85 percent. Our administration will begin to test different methods of helping employers verify a worker's employment authorization. This was, as I'm sure you'll remember, one of the key recommendations of the Jordan commission. Barbara Jordan wanted to be here with us today, but in pursuit of that commission's work, she is traveling the country. She has sent us a letter endorsing the proposals in this package.

The fact is that employer sanctions have been in the law on illegal immigration since 1986, but no prior administration has made a serious attempt to enforce them. With this budget and with legislation I will soon be sending to Congress, we will be able to crack down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. If we turn off the employment stream for illegal workers, far, far fewer of them will risk the difficult journey here.

Incidentally, our financial support package for Mexico will also, over the long run, reduce pressure on illegal immigration. With a healthier economy, the Mexican people will find more opportunities for jobs at home.

Thirdly, I have asked for new funds to double the deportation of criminal aliens next year and to triple them by 1996.

And finally, ours is the first administration to reimburse States for a share of the costs that they bear related to illegal immigration, including the incarceration of illegal aliens. I've asked Congress for a total of $550 million for State reimbursement; that more than doubles the fund that now exists.

Whether through the budget, the directive I've just signed, or the legislation I will soon send to the Congress, our goals are the same: tougher border enforcement, more protection for American workers, faster deportation of criminal aliens, additional assistance to the States. That's a comprehensive strategy that is already beginning to work and that will work much better if this plan is implemented by the administration and by the Congress. We need help from the Congress to implement this plan.

I want Congress to move quickly on this issue, just as we have moved quickly on a number of fronts. I am proud at the speed that the INS showed recently in moving 62 Border Patrol agents in 24 hours to Nogales, Arizona, to reinforce that border. In the future, if our budget becomes law, that kind of movement won't be necessary. For the first time ever there will be a rapid response team to enable the Border Patrol to react quickly to buildups at any particular border spots.

We've accomplished a lot in just 2 years. As I said in the State of the Union, we are a nation of immigrants, and we should all be proud of it. But we're also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws that we have seen in recent years. There is too much of it, and we must do much more to stop it.

Thank you very much.

Surgeon General Nominee Foster

Q. Mr. President, have you cleared up the conflicting statements about Dr. Foster and abortions?

The President. I believe that they've been cleared up, and I certainly support him.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:23 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. The memorandum is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Immigration Policy Initiative and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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