WASHINGTON – Both Democrats and Republicans at a U.S. House Department of Homeland Security subcommittee hearing today questioned whether Americans should be confident of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that the U.S. border “is more secure than ever before.”
“Americans are receiving mixed information on border security,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Duncan, R-S.C. “Congress and the public are in the dark” on the issue.
Duncan gave testimony about his recent trip to the Arizona-Mexico border and criticized Napolitano’s confidence.
The reality is, he said, “Ranchers don’t feel safe enough to go up to 7-11 to get a gallon of milk for their families.”
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., also went on the offensive, claiming “we need to properly define what a border is.” He explained that “any state that has an international airport is a border state.”
Barletta said 40 percent of illegal aliens in the U.S. are people who did not cross the Mexican or Canadian border but rather “came here came through the airport and overstayed there visas.”
Barletta asked U.S. Border patrol Chief Michael Fisher if adding more agents would have stopped 9/11, and Fisher said, “No.”
He also made the point that “one of the 9/11 terrorists was granted amnesty in 1986 – claiming to be an agriculture worker.”
“We are a long way from secure borders,” he said.
Marc R. Rosenblum, a specialist in immigration policy for the Congressional Research Service, echoed a similar concern by referring to port entry security as a key “gap” in American border security.
“Little is known about illegal flows through ports of entry, or how such flows are affected by tougher enforcement between the ports,” he said.
Lawmakers also raised fiscal issues, which soon will be aggravated by the mandatory budget cuts President Obama created and signed into law.
U.S. Rep. Bernie Thompson D-Miss., lamented the coming effects of the plan that “will pull the equivalent of 5,000 Border Patrol agents and 2,750 CBP officers from our borders.”
He said that is no way to achieve anyone’s definition of a secured border, adding the impact also will hit the U.S. Coast Guard.
Fisher confirmed the Border Patrol “will have reduced capability” in combating illegal crossings and threats.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said even though new ideas and investments have been implemented recently, there still is the fear that “unless Congress acts, cuts mandated by the sequester would undermine the progress we have made with these investments.”
Rebecca Gambler, the acting director of the Homeland Security and Justice Accountability Office, took pride in the decreased number of illegal entries between 2006 and 2011 but attributed much of it to “the changes in the U.S. economy.”
In terms of solutions, Fisher wants “90 percent effectiveness everywhere” along the border.
He also wants to treat the drug cartels as “a business.” He said authorities should intercept cartel shipments to the point where they “will cease to want to do business.”
Asked by Duncan about the usage of drones to enforce border security, both Fisher and Rear Adm. William Lee of the Coast Guard said the effort is “invaluable” and “essential.”