As we look toward November, this will be the first Presidential election in recent times where one of the key issues debated will be immigration reform and the most effective way to secure the border – in particular the southern border.  Right now some Members of Congress and allied interest groups are busy framing border security in the political terms most advantageous to their own partisan interests. Specifically, activists who oppose NAFTA and immigration reform have a vested interest in undercutting DHS’s policies and programs that will reduce chaos, enhance security and support increased legal trade.

In what seems to be an endless series of hearings DHS Secretary Chertoff and other senior DHS officials are hauled before Congress ostensibly to be held accountable for the perceived failures of the Bush Administration’s border security policies and programs.  Never mind, however, that the standards of accountability are all too often created by partisan think tanks or by people who want to advance a political agenda in a Presidential election year. The virtual fence pilot program known as P-28 is the most recent case in point.

Recently, we have seen media spokesmen for beltway anti-immigration groups proclaim themselves as experts on the DHS’ virtual fence.  One national media director of a leading anti-immigration group, provided the following assessment of the virtual fence – “the virtual border fence is virtually useless and an actual waste of money.”  Hardly a credible or expert source.   But in election years, media spokesmen become technology experts capable of rendering expert views on whether DHS is getting good bang for its border security bucks.

Homeland security is serious business and the programs being put in place deserve scrutiny, appropriate oversight and vigilant evaluation.  But those who would politicize them or characterize them in a way that advances their own unstated political agenda ought to think twice.  As one of the TSA’s early employees shortly after 9/11, I can attest that the challenges facing Secretary Chertoff and the DHS leadership are difficult enough without special interests spinning unqualified opinions in a way as to prove their own policy ends.

In this latest round, we have seen interest groups who have historically opposed immigration and expanded trade activity embodied in NAFTA attacking Secretary Chertoff for perceived program failures they really aren’t competent to assess.  As I have noted, these interests groups have a hidden agenda – attack and try to discredit any initiative that doesn’t coincide with their opposition to NAFTA.  Between now and November, we should all respect the job DHS is trying to do, and criticize if we must on the merits, but refrain from attacking border security efforts in an effort to advance a hidden political agenda.