Senate Democrats Fight Border Security Technology Cuts

Both sides must agree to a spending bill by March 4 to avoid a government shutdown.
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Both sides must agree to a spending bill by March 4 to avoid a government shutdown.

A coalition of Senate Democrats whose states border either Canada or Mexico, have been leading the fight against proposed spending cuts on border security measures, including cuts in needed technology to monitor those boundaries.

The three senators and their states are Jeff Bingaman, N.M.; Charles Schumer, N.Y.; and Jon Tester, Mont. They say H.R. 1, the “continuing resolution” (CR) approved by House Republicans, would cut $272 million from the Department of Homeland Security’s budget for border security, fencing and technology.

In a letter to members of the House Republican leadership—including Harold Rogers, chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations and Robert Aderholt, chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee—the senators called the cuts proposed in the CR “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” and said they would harm the security of the nation. The letter reads:

“As you know, in August 2010, Congress unanimously passed a $600 million emergency border security bill that increased the size of the Border Patrol by 1,000 agents to a total of 21,370 full-time agents. The emergency supplemental bill was specifically enacted to address concerns that the border did not have sufficient personnel to combat illegal immigration, drug and gun smuggling, and human trafficking. Now, we are troubled to learn that the proposed House Continuing Resolution, H.R. 1, provides funding for only 20,500 agents. This effectively nullifies the very border security gains that were made in August, and again leaves our agents understaffed against the dangerous cartels that we are attempting to combat.

“The House CR will also reduce the Department of Homeland Security budget for border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology by $272 million compared to FY 2010 levels. Even if reasonable lawmakers might disagree about the optimal mix of infrastructure and technology used by the border patrol, this magnitude of reduction is simply dangerous. Over the course of a year, thousands of incursions are attempted through our southern border security fence and the repeated damage caused to the fence during these incursions must be continually repaired in order to maintain our current level of security. Reducing the funding available to repair the fence will greatly reduce its effectiveness, wasting the billions of dollars invested to build it in the first place. In addition, given the Government Accountability Office’s recent report indicating that only four percent of the northern border is secure, we can no longer ignore the need for increased border security infrastructure and technology along the northern border.

“Simply put, cuts of this magnitude will be devastating to our security and our economy. They will render us unable to secure our borders and, even worse, will reverse the progress Congress has made in reducing the flow of illegal immigration, guns, and drugs along our border. As terrorists and smugglers continue to devise new methods to harm America, we must stand ready to make sure our men and women on the ground have the tools they need to keep us safe. Cutting their budget at this important time is irresponsible and dangerous.”

The full CR approved by the House cuts $62 billion in spending for the rest of federal fiscal year 2011, however, President Obama and the Democratic-run Senate want fewer cuts and more investments. Both sides must agree to a spending bill by March 4 to avoid a government shutdown.