Senate bill aims $925 million at security along both borders - Two-thirds of people entering the U.S. each year come across land borders

Gannett News Service
Bellingham Herald


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Federal lawmakers representing northern and southwestern border states want Congress to spend $925 million in the next five years to improve security on both borders.

A bill introduced Wednesday by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., calls for hiring hundreds of new employees and spending millions of dollars on high-tech equipment to monitor the massive annual flow of people and products into the United States.

Domenici said the nation's 197 ports of entry, or border checkpoints, are in desperate need of "a comprehensive overhaul" to protect the nation against potential terrorists and to cope with the massive trade growth with Canada and Mexico.

"America's two biggest trading partners are not across an ocean, they lie to the north and south of our country," said Domenici. "At the same time, our infrastructure is weakest on our land borders, and we must act quickly and decisively to prevent terrorists from exploiting this weakness."

Since passage of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, trade with Mexico has tripled to $135 billion. Trade with Canada has doubled to $211 billion. And almost two-thirds of the estimated 550 million people who enter the United States annually come across land borders.

"This work will be costly, but necessary," said Domenici, whose bill would direct the dollars to the borders through the newly created Homeland Security Department.

The department, which officially opened its doors March 1, has assumed the duties of 22 federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol and the Customs Service.

Long way to go

The bill has a long way to go in Congress. Lawmakers won't deliberate on details of the fiscal year 2004 budget, which begins Oct. 1, until later this year.

The bill drew support from Democrat and Republican senators representing states along both borders, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

McCain said the daunting task of protecting the borders must be done through technology. "You can't do it with just people," he said.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., whose district in southern Arizona includes much of the state's border with Mexico, is sponsoring the House version of the bill.

"This would improve trade across our borders and cut down on the numbers of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. through legal ports of entry," he said.

Almost 40 percent of the nearly 1 million illegal immigrants apprehended by federal authorities last year were captured in Arizona, according to the Border Patrol.

Domenici's bill, the Border Infrastructure and Technology Modernization Act, include the following provisions:

Spending about $500 million in the next five years to build and upgrade inspection facilities at 197 border checkpoints.

Spending about $30 million in fiscal year 2004 to expand several terrorist-related programs on the border, including the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, the Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition and the Container Security Initiative.

Hiring 1,000 Customs inspectors in the next five years in the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which includes the enforcement side of the former INS and Customs Service. The bureau is charged with enforcing immigration and customs laws on the border. There were no cost estimates.

Hiring 500 employees in the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That bureau is charged with enforcing immigration and customs laws within the United States. There were no cost estimates.


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