The Rio Grande border area in Texas on Sept. 23, 2013. (Donna Burton/CBP)

McAleenan Tells Congress Money Needed to ‘Build on Momentum’ on CBP Staffing, Security

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told Congress that the department’s budget allocation needs the resources to build upon recruiting momentum as well as technology and intelligence as they try to acquire land in the border wall building process.

Testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security last week on the CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement fiscal year 2019 budget requests, McAleenan called the request a “continuing investment” in “key mission areas.”

“With regard to border security, the president’s budget requests $1.6 billion to be applied for the contraction of 65 miles of board wall system,” he said. “…In conjunction with the border wall system,  technology is a first multiplier in the border environment that increases situational awareness and decreases risk to the safety of our frontline personnel. The budget request proposes investing $220 million in the sustainment and continued deployment of technology to strengthen border security operation between the ports of entry.”

On CBP staffing, McAleenan told lawmakers that the “total number of frontline applicants has increased and we intend to make progress with targeted digital recruiting.”

“Further, attrition dropped last year,” he added, while admitting he was “keenly aware that we are not where we need to be in this area.”

“Hiring and sustaining a world-class law enforcement workforce will continue to be my highest …priority for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. There’s simply no area where we are working harder.”

The commissioner said CBP wants to “build on this momentum in 2019 by requesting $46 million for recruitment and applicant processing,” which would “support the requested increase of $164 million to hire, train and equip an additional 750 Border Patrol agents from the FY 2018 requested levels.”

“Importantly, this budget also includes an additional $45 million to continue to support the operational mobility program that helps reduce Border Patrol agents’ attrition and staff hard-to-fill locations,” McAleenan continued.

The budget request also includes $44 million “to build upon and recapitalize CBP’s Non-Intrusive Inspection technology” and an increase of $27 million to “improve intelligence and targeting capabilities and CPB’s National Targeting Center.”

“CBP’s trade facilitation and trading enforcement role is critical to our nation’s economic security. The budget request includes $2 million for 26 positions to support CBP’s ongoing implementation of the trade facility of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act,” McAleenan said. “The request also includes an increase of $5.5 million to develop and deploy additional functionality in our Automated Commercial Environment or ACE, the single window for submission of trade data to the U.S. government.”

Matthew Albence, executive associate director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, said President Trump’s FY19 budget request for ICE includes $8.3 billion “to meet our diverse mission requirements and to make much-needed investments in immigration enforcement, criminal investigations, workforce expansion, and training.”

Albence said the budget request “makes a significant down payment on ICE’s workforce, requesting $571 million for an additional 2,000 law enforcement officers and vital support personnel impacting all aspects of our mission’s base.”

“While the FY18 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided ICE with funding for 40,520 detention beds, the requirement remains almost 11,000 beds higher in FY19 through the use of the ICE statistical bed model and associated operational factors. ICE estimates the need for detention beds at 52,000 for FY19,” he said.

ERO, he told lawmakers, has “worked diligently to obtain greater cooperation with foreign governments to accept their citizens, with the number of recalcitrant countries dropping from 20 to nine and those at risk of non-compliance dropping from 55 to 36.”

“However, the cost of removing these aliens is extensive and ERO requires additional funds to ensure that these and other illegal aliens, many violent criminals, are removed from our country,” Albence said. “Overall, the resulting FY19 ERO budget requests $5.1 billion to identify arrest, detain and remove illegal aliens.”

ICE Homeland Security Investigations Acting Executive Associate Director Derek Benner stressed that HSI “has seen rapid growth in our fentanyl-related investigations and seizures in just the last two years.”

“For instance, between fiscal year ’15 and fiscal year ’17, fentanyl seizures and investigations have increased from 69 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal year ’15 to 2,400 pounds in fiscal year ’17,” he said. “We anticipate this increase in seizures and investigations will continue in fiscal year ’18.”

Benner added that HSI cyber investigations related to fentanyl and other illicit opioids have increased by 400 percent between those two fiscal years, ’15 and ’17.”

“In response to the executive order and then to our improved ability to tie overdose deaths here in the United States to the smuggling networks, HSI has developed a dark web and cryptocurrency training program for state and local law enforcement,” he said. “…HSI welcomes the additional resources requested in the president’s fiscal year ’19 budget requests, including 300 special agents and mission support personnel allowing us to better fulfill our mission.”

Asked about how property acquisition along the border is proceeding to facilitate planned future wall construction, McAleenan said that efforts with the Army Corps of Engineers “to identify property acquisition in South Texas are well underway.”

“We do have to go, unfortunately, to court proceedings in some cases. And often, that’s just to determine a clear title. It’s not necessarily that we’re having trouble agreeing with the landowner on a fair price for that property. So it’s often just to find out who owns it. Some of these, these go back to the Spanish land grants and are very complex to really figure out who owns the land,” he explained.

“So that’s a multistage process. We try to do it in a collaborative and open consultative manner,” the CBP commissioner added. “…But that’s going to be underway with the $38 million authorized in ’18 to do real estate planning in advance, as well.”

Chairman John Carter (R-Texas), a former judge, warned McAleenan that his land acquisition team faces an uphill battle.

“I’ve been warning people since day one, you deal with a different world in Texas than you’re dealing with the rest of the world. It’s all private property except the Big Bend,” Carter said, recommending they “get a lot of lawyers working or you’re going to be forever doing the Rio Grande Valley.”

“I tried way more of those than I ever want to try and they are problems,” he noted.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a border district, chided his colleagues, “I’m amazed how some of our friends have fought for private property rights, but it comes to the border, it’s a different double standard.”

“If you look at the terrain we know and — well, I think all of you have been down to the border, it’s hard — and sometimes you have to put a fence or a wall a mile away from the bank because of the terrain, the International Boundary and water commission standards,” Cuellar said. “…People have talked about the gates. What are you going to do about cattle or wildlife? Are you going to give them automatic gate openers so they can go and open the gates itself? So there’s a lot of issues we have to look at.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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