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Border Improvements

Poet Robert Frost once wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors." Two new border policies, announced last week, re inforce that notion. One rightly improves US security; the other fosters better relations with Mexico.

Homeland Security Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson detailed an expansion of a program that would affect individuals caught within two weeks of entering the US illegally and whose countries of origin are other than Mexico and Canada. They would be deported to their home countries without a judicial hearing, ideally within eight days of being apprehended.

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Although the new program applies to the entire US border, it will start first in the border areas near Tucson, Arizona, and Laredo, Texas, where more Border Patrol agents will be assigned. Those captured would not enter the US legal system unless they applied for asylum, or expressed a credible fear of persecution if deported.

The plan is a sensible expansion of the same policy that's been in effect at air and seaports since 1997. As borders are tightened with improvements such as biometric passports, it's logical to assume more individuals, including terrorists, will try to cross into the US at away from legal entry points.

The plan also buttresses much needed control over illegal entry to the United States.

Over 16 months, mostly in 2003, some 42,000 immigrants were arrested along the Southwest border, the majority from Central and South America. About 14,000 of those individuals were detained; a whopping 28,000 were released on bond. The overwhelming majority of those released - 90 percent - failed to show up for their hearing, disappearing into the vast US melting pot, and upping the cost of finding them.

Even as Mr. Hutchinson took this necessary step, however, he also confirmed he was lengthening the time that Mexican citizens who travel on special visas, as tourists, or on business, can stay in the US - from three to 30 days. This decision can help both the border economy, and US-Mexico relations.

"We are rewarding those that seek a legal path to our country," Hutchinson told reporters last week. He's right. The move puts legal Mexicans that much further ahead, though as a measure of comparison, Canadians with similar visas are allowed unlimited access to the US for up to six months.