The House Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held a field hearing on Monday to hear from local law enforcement officials, business and community leaders, ranchers and residents—those who must live with the ramifications of an unsecure border every day— on what they see as the real border security challenges facing the nation.
Chairwoman Martha McSally (R-AZ) said the testimony of several government officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a hearing several weeks ago revealed “a deep disconnect” between how politicians and policymakers in Washington, DC view the current situation on the border versus what the actual situation is according to those who live and work on the border.
“This is not surprising considering many policymakers in the nation’s capital have never seen or experienced our situation along the border, something Southern Arizona residents live with every day,” said McSally.
McSally said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been feeding the American people a false narrative on the security of the border. The border is not nearly as secure as it needs to be. At a recent hearing, for example, CBP admitted to having only roughly 50 percent situational awareness of the border.
Additionally, Homeland Security Today recently reported that the 81 percent interdiction rate touted by CBP paints an incomplete pictures, since it included unaccompanied children and those who voluntarily turn themselves in, inflating the number.
“We are fortunate to have brave men and women of the Border Patrol do all they can with the tools they are provided,” said McSally. “However, they are often hampered by outdated, flawed strategies and political leadership that does not have the resolve to let them do what agents do best – secure the border and protect the homeland.”
The southwest border remains a hub of cross-border illegal activity, withDHS apprehending over 331,000 illegal entrants, and making over 14,000 seizures of drugs in fiscal year 2015, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Today, in 2016, the entire border is controlled by Mexican drug cartels, according to Art Del Cueto, President, Local 2544, National Border Patrol Council. Cueto likened the situation on the border to a prison, saying drug cartels control the border similar to the way inmates control a prison.
“If there is one point that I want to make in this entire testimony it is that the money that the cartels earn from illegal alien smuggling underwrites the same organizations that are flooding our streets with narcotics,” Cueto emphasized.
To confront the Mexican drug cartels, Cueto said that first the current Administration must admit there is a problem. Then, they will need more manpower, more agents in the field, a more effective deployment of resources, and an end to the catch and release policy, which he described as “driving illegal immigration to our front door.”
Cueto noted, “One of the main drivers of illegal immigration is our own immigration policy.”
Living in a border town can be dangerous. Frank Krentz, an Arizona rancher, testified that at his ranch he has seen houses broken into, vehicles stolen, trash left, and waterlines broken by illegal immigrants crossing the property.
Frank is the son of Rob Krentz, a prominent Arizona rancher found shot dead on his property after reporting seeing an immigrant in need of help. Local authorities said evidence indicated that the assailant was most likely an illegal immigrant.
Krentz recalled, “I was told once by a US Congressman that the people along the border have become ‘numb’ to the whole border issue. They have gotten use to the idea that this is the new normal if they want to live here.”
“I wouldn’t say that we have become ‘numb,’” Krentz added, “but we have become resilient; that we want to live in this part of the world, that many of the families here have been here for many years and generations and hope to have many more on this part of the world they have carved out for themselves.”
Danny Ortega, Mayor of Douglas, Arizona told the panel that the border is worth the investment. Currently, Mexico is the third ranked commercial trading partner with the United States, and the second largest market for US exports. Additionally, trade with Mexico sustains six million US jobs.
In Douglas, which is considered a small port of entry, over $1.5 billion worth of merchandise crosses over on a yearly bases and that number is growing at about 5 percent over the last 5 years. Furthermore, about 1500 head of cattle a day cross through Douglas during the peak season of November through May. This equates to over $2 million a day in cattle crossing.
Ortega urged the panel to see the border through the eyes of those who live and work a stone’s throw away from Mexico, saying the discussion should not be limited to building walls and fences. There needs to be more discussion on how to make it more efficient and easier to trade goods and services with Mexico.
“Border towns have been ignored for many years even though we provide access one of the fastest growing economies in the world,” said Ortega. “China is starting to have better relations with Mexico and is one of our biggest competitors for the burgeoning economy. We need to view the southern border as an asset and not a liability.”
Enhancing security and promoting trade do not have to be contradictory, according to Jaime Chamberlain President of JC Distributing Inc., an Arizona based company with a 46-year history of importing and distributing fresh produce from Mexico throughout the United States and Canada.
“With enhanced security our enforcement officials can, with greater certainty, secure our communities and bolster our economic productivity,” said Chamberlain.
Chamberlain noted that ports of entry at Nogales processed 640,000 trucks, 7 million cars and 21 million people this past year, which represents more than $25 billion worth of imports and exports flowing through Nogales each year. Moreover, it is estimated that Mexican visitors spend over $7.3 million per day in Arizona.
Currently, CBP is doing the best they can with the resources they have, but the reality is that ports of entry need more resources. Chamberlain explained, “These volumes can continue to grow but only if we provide CBP with the necessary staffing, the newest technology for our equipment, and state of the art facilities in order to do their job effectively and efficiently.”
“Securing the border at the border should be the strategy for our country,” Chamberlain added. “Unfortunately, many times when we ask for resources for our border, we are seen as a cost burden to the nation. I don’t know of a better use of our scarce federal funds than investing in our sea ports, our land ports and our air ports of entry. It needs to be seen, it must be seen as our best return on our investment for our nation.”