Our country’s porous southwest border is a national security liability. It leaves us vulnerable to threats from avowed enemies who seek to harm us at home and is easily exploited by drug smugglers and human traffickers.
The severity of the crisis at the border calls for a serious legislative solution. In order for that response to be effective, it must be based off an understanding of the challenges we face along the border and include input from those on the ground who are responsible for protecting and securing it.
That’s why I recently traveled with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), chair of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, to several sites along the Pacific coast and U.S.-Mexico border. Getting a first-hand view of the challenges that we face in controlling illegal immigration, human trafficking and drug smuggling will help us create and promote policies and provide resources to fight these crimes.
Our Border Patrol and air interdiction agents, ICE officers, field operations officers and Coast Guard men and women are on the frontline of this battle. During our visit, we were accompanied by U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Commandant Admiral Karl L. Schultz—as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel—who all helped shine a light on the security strategies that are working.
Over the course of three days, we participated in river patrols, toured processing and detention centers, learned about the USCG’s off-shore interdiction capabilities and more. It was a very insightful look into the ever-evolving and often dangerous challenges presented to those working to secure our borders and protect our waterways.
The need for more infrastructure—including roads for access, electronic devices for surveillance and fencing for deterrence—was a common refrain at each border stop. Crossings are down significantly in the areas where we have good infrastructure in place. However, the areas along the border most highly traveled by drug smugglers and human traffickers are the very same areas where our infrastructure is lacking.
We are working in Washington to make resources available to build that infrastructure. Earlier this year, I supported the bipartisan Homeland Security subcommittee funding bill which included an increase in funding to better meet these needs. Constructing a wall where feasible, and coupling that with fencing, manpower and electronic surveillance, will provide a strong deterrent to those who seek to illegally enter our country.
Along with a renewed commitment to border security, Congress must work to expedite the legal proceedings for those accused of entering the U.S. illegally. The agents at the processing and detention centers we visited are working very hard to ensure those apprehended or who voluntarily surrender to authorities are treated in a dignified, humane manner. It’s important for the system to work fairly and efficiently, which is why a significant increase in judges is necessary to tackle the backlog of 750,000 cases that remain to be adjudicated.
The men and women working on the front lines of the fight to secure our borders are handling a very difficult situation in a manner in which all Americans can be proud. Congress needs to give them all the resources they need to safely execute their mission. That must remain a top priority for lawmakers in Washington; it certainly is for me.