Monday, July 03, 2006

Perry adviser: Give undocumented immigrants "Verifiable ID"

An adviser to Texas Governor Rick Perry hit on a pragmatic snag with Texas' "border security" plan ("Texas border adviser: Register immigrants," McAllen Monitor, July 2):
It’s impossible to budget for an expense if you don’t know the price.

That’s the concept Buddy Garcia — the Texas deputy secretary of state and Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s adviser on border issues — thinks is lost in the boisterous national debate over how to reform immigration policy.

First and foremost, everyone illegally here should be required to register with the government, he said. Every person would be fingerprinted, receive an identification number and be placed in a database accessible to all levels of government so leaders can approve budgets with an idea of how much money they must set aside for social services.

Garcia brought up his idea during a recent interview discussing border affairs.

“There isn’t enough attention, I think, on the idea that if you’re going to change anything, the emphasis needs to be on some form of verifiable ID,” Garcia said.

Registering alone would not give anyone legal status or put them on a track to legal status.

Garcia did not address whether the U.S. Border Patrol or Immigration and Naturalization Service would use the database for their purposes.

But he said an identification program would provide a foundation for other initiatives Congress might consider in the future, such as guest-worker programs, and it would help legislators at all levels accurately budget their social service programs.

I'm glad to hear of somebody in Texas focused on one of the real, actual security risks surrounding illegal immigration as opposed to all the bogeymen: lack of verifiable identification. The state wouldn't need to create any new bureaucracy to implement Garcia's idea - it could easily happen using the state drivers license and ID card system. (If Texas allowed undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses, I'll bet the vast majority would do it in a heartbeat. Overnight that'd solve much of the state's uninsured motorist problem.)

He didn't quite get there, but Garcia's comments came close to addressing what I consider perhaps the biggest security risk posed by the failure to allow immigrants legal, documented paths to entry - the inability to manage large urban populations during a disaster, particularly a bioterrorism event. I don't lay awake nights fearing Al Quaeda will attack with bioterror weapons, but the threat of accidental release is significant, and if it happened, the inability to document who lives where could create massive problems. I wrote about this not long ago in the
comments to a post on the blog Patriotic Rants:
I've spent a great deal of time thinking about specific bioterrorism risks as an appointed member of Texas' Bioterrorism Preparedness Coordinating Committee, and speaking only for myself I don't believe there's a significant threat of Al Quaeda successfully weaponizing biological weapons to attack the US. It's really not the poor man's WMD - to weaponize germs is a sophisticated process.

A bigger threat, IMO, are the growing number of BSL-3 and BSL-4 labs at military and university research centers where we're already weaponizing and testing bioweapons. Those are already here, are accessible to grad students, and the bioagents are typically transported (even government military samples) by commercial Fed Ex shipping. We had a professor from Texas Tech convicted of smuggling bubonic plague samples aboard airplanes using the still-too-common "VIP" method - Vial In Pocket. If I remember right, I think that guy's still in a federal prison.

A related concern I have that affects both Texas and California is how to effectively enforce a quarantine or evacuation when so many illegal immigrants aren't registered in any way with the government. The solution is to let them get drivers licenses or some other form of official ID card so we'll know who lives where during crunch time, but a lot of people oppose that idea for other, non-public safety related reasons.
A bioterror event would be the worst case scenario, and a relatively unlikely one - it wouldn't be Al Quaeda but probably an accident at one of the BSL 4 labs in San Antonio or Galveston, or else accidentally importing an infected chimp. (In 1996, two macaques infected with the deadly Ebola virus were famously discovered at a primate import facility in South Texas.) Still, one can imagine many homeland security scenarios would be exacerbated by the fact that Texas has 1.4 million people living here without the vaguest hint where to find them.

You tell me, what's more important? Protecting the public from infectious disease in a bioterrorism event, or "sending a message" to immigrants that they're not welcome?

I wish Mr. Garcia luck implementing his idea - convincing Governor Perry would be a good start.

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