US lawmakers are in a pre-election, chest-thumping mood to appear tough on terrorism. They're rushing to implement most of the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission in July. In the next two weeks, the House and Senate will each take up a security bill, perhaps trying to score campaign points as much as trying to pass effective legislation.
While such measures would best be debated and approved after the election's blast furnace of partisan politics, there's one urgent step that, strangely, Democratic nominee John Kerry and the House Republican leadership agree on: better border security.
In a key speech on terrorism last Friday, Mr. Kerry said his top priority for homeland security would be to make the borders with Mexico and Canada less "porous." He claimed border security has declined since Sept. 11, 2001, citing a 9/11 commission finding that border inspectors need better training and intelligence information to keep out terrorists. The GOP bill in the House, crafted by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) of Illinois, differs from its Senate counterpart by including strong measures to beef up border controls.
It would increase the number of border patrol agents and immigration and customs agents, as well as expand agents' power to inspect travelers entering the US. It would set minimum federal standards for driver's licenses issued by states to prevent illegal aliens from gaining this important ID. And the bill would make it easier to deport immigrants who break US law (such as entering the country illegally).
The Bush administration already has done much on border controls, including an agreement with Canada that aims both to speed the flow of commerce and travelers and catch terrorists (none of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Canada). President Bush also increased the number of border agents, surveillance cameras, and unmanned aerial flights.
But Mr. Bush, in proposing an amnesty-like program earlier this year that would allow Mexicans into the US as "guest workers," has reportedly helped increase the flow of illegal migrants across that border. (Many of the new migrants think the US may soon offer an amnesty; the last one was in 1986.)
The war on terror has many fronts, and as long as the US is still hunting Al Qaeda abroad, it must tighten its borders to keep terrorists from entering along with other illegal aliens. Republicans and Democrats seem to be on the same page about that.