In a speech on January 7, 2004 in the East Room of the White House, President Bush proposed a new temporary worker program to address the millions of undocumented men and women now employed in the U.S. He did not outline his solution to securing the U.S. borders and mentioned “border security” only one time in his 22-minute speech.
The President’s plan became stalled over lack of support from conservatives in Congress who felt a “guest worker program” rewards people who broke the law and entered the U.S. illegally with “amnesty” instead of prosecution. Immigration reform stalled in Congress with no consensus.
On October 1, 2004, Jim Gilchrist became founder of the Minuteman Project and began a grassroots effort to set up citizen checkpoints and along the U.S. Southern border to enforce immigration laws and make citizen arrests of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico. Gilchrist’s group focused national attention on border security issues but by the summer of 2005 gained the support of a handful of Congressmen but were unable to generate congressional commitment to address the problem.
In August of 2005, Let Freedom Ring, Inc. launched a project called “WeNeedAFence.com” to promote their solution to illegal immigration by building an Israeli-like, state-of-the-art security fence along the entire 2,000 mile US southern border.
Multi-year arrest data supplied by the U.S. Border Patrol indicated that some of the people apprehended trying to enter the U.S. illegally through Mexico come from “special interest” terrorist countries like Iran, Syria, and Sudan. This data was used to develop a high-impact 30-second television spot to generate earned media, raise public awareness and target key decision-makers on Capitol Hill.
RapidResponse Media created a spot called “Easy Cover” using footage of the World Trade Center attack to highlight the growing security threat posed by “Special Interest Aliens” entering the U.S. and how a porous southern border makes the U.S. vulnerable to another large-scale terrorist attack. The “Easy Cover” script highlighted the following:
- The U.S. needed to fix its growing problem of illegal immigration;
- A number of “special-interest aliens” from countries identified as either supporting or sponsoring terrorism had been apprehended each year trying to enter the U.S. along the Mexican border;
- Illegal immigration provides easy cover for those people trying to find a way to physically “blend in” and enter the U.S. illegally;
- An unsecured border leaves the U.S. vulnerable to another terrorist attack;
- America needs to secure the border;
- Call-to-action to visit a Web site for information about how to contact members of Congress;
- Using limited media dollars, a small media cable TV buy was planned for Philadelphia, PA and DC and used to solicit earned media via a full-scale PR effort to launch the campaign.
After two weeks of media and PR work by Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, talking points from RapidResponse Media’s “Easy Cover” script were echoed in published comments by members of Congress and Washington government officials. Within 30 days, public pressure grew to the point where the need to secure the border as part of any effort to reform immigration was echoed in public statements by both the Homeland Security Secretary and the President of the United States.
Border security and the idea of building a fence to secure the U.S. Southern border with Mexico became a hotly-debated national issue that culminated in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 that authorized the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security “to spend $1.2 billion for the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
SEPTEMBER 30th: “Easy Cover” debuts on Lou Dobbs Tonight/CNN on September 30th and features an interview with Colin Hanna, president of We-Need-A-Fence (a project of Let Freedom Ring).
OCTOBER 3rd: after a small one week cable broadcast in the D.C. and Philadelphia markets only, LFR spokesperson is interviewed along with clip of “Easy Cover” on Fox & Friends, The Shepard Smith Report, MSNBC/Tucker Carlson and a number of radio talk shows.
OCTOBER 14th: A front-page article in Washington Times, Senate Majority Leader Frist announces his intention for the Senate to take up Immigration reform by tackling border security and interior immigration enforcement first. The article by Stephen Dinan said Senator Frist, “…was particularly interested in “special-interest aliens” — those from countries where terrorists are active. Last year, 109 of these illegal aliens were picked up in the Rio Grande Valley sector. “That’s useful for me because this being a security issue, a humanitarian issue and an economic issue, the security aspect of it was driven home by the fact there were 109 of these special-interest aliens last year.”
OCTOBER 18th: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff promises to end “catch and release” policy that has allowed tens of thousands of non-Mexican illegal aliens to disappear within the U.S.
OCTOBER 18th: after signing the Homeland Security Appropriations Act for 2006 at the White House, President Bush’s comments, “To defend this country, we’ve got to enforce our borders. When our borders are not secure, terrorists and drug dealers and criminals find it easier to come to America.
NOVEMBER 17th: USA TODAY reports, “A once-radical idea to build a 2,000-mile steel-and-wire fence on the U.S. Mexican border is gaining momentum amid warnings that terrorist can easily sneak into the country. In Congress, a powerful Republican lawmaker this week proposed building such a fence across the entire border and two dozen other lawmakers signed on. And via the Internet, a group called WeNeedAFence.com has raised enough money to air TV ads warning that the border is open to terrorists.”
NOVEMBER 28th: While discussing border security and Immigration Reform in Arizona, President Bush states, “Securing our border is essential to securing the homeland.”
NOVEMBER 30th: Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff states on the White House Web site: “President is deeply committed to securing our borders and bringing reform to our immigration system. He has told me that this is one of his highest priorities….”
OCTOBER 26, 2006: H.R. 6061: Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed into law authorizing the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security to spend $1.2 billion for the construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.