For too long in Washington, the issue of border security has fallen off the radar. In communities along the 1,200 mile border that Texas shares with Mexico, however, the effects of a porous border are constantly evident. The violence associated with narco-terrorism, drug and arms trafficking, and human smuggling threatens the safety of local communities in Texas and other border states, and it undermines our national security. Preventing and responding to these challenges is stretching our border forces and law enforcement officials thin. An aggressive strategy to halt illicit activity and the spillover of violence into the U.S. is long overdue, and I am working with my colleagues to make border security an urgent national priority.
I joined with other border state Senators to offer a series of amendments to heighten border security to an emergency spending bill that the Senate recently passed. Our goal was to provide resources and support to our border enforcement officials because they are facing a real crisis in Texas, as well as in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Altogether, we focused on two key components that must be a part of an effective strategy to secure the southwest boundary with Mexico: the strength and readiness of border forces and the high-tech tools necessary to effectively monitor the border.
I have pushed to expand the presence of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to help protect the southwest border. This would allow U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to obtain at least six new drone systems and hire pilots to operate them with the ultimate goal of covering all 2,000 miles of U.S-Mexico border every day of the week. Expanding the availability of UAV resources allows border enforcement officials to more efficiently and consistently monitor the border and respond to illicit activity.
These are critical tools because portions of the Southwest border that are ineffectively or intermittently monitored become open portals for drug cartels, arms dealers, human traffickers, and even terrorists.
As well as modernizing our surveillance tools, we must bolster border forces so there is adequate manpower to protect the border and respond to illegal activity. The Department of Homeland Security has 17,000 personnel assigned to the southwest border. Well under half the agents – about 7,700 – are currently assigned to Texas, even though 63 percent of the border runs through our state. Arizona only has 4,000 agents. Every border state needs more support.
To help address this, I authored an amendment that directs deployment of 6,000 National Guard to the southwest border. This would raise our National Guard presence to Operation Jumpstart levels. Under the amendment, the National Guard would help CBP get operational control of the Southwest border, and it would augment our security forces until we are able to hire and train more dedicated Border Patrol agents.
Shortly after my colleagues and I introduced our amendments, the President announced a proposal for increased border funding. After deemphasizing border security and even proposing to cut forces on the southwest border, this was a welcome shift in policy. Border Senators and Congressmen have repeatedly called on the President to focus on this challenge.
I am disappointed, however, that the President has only called for an additional 1,200 National Guard to be sent to the southwest border. I believe this falls considerably short of meeting our dire need for more forces. Texas alone has requested 1,000 National Guard – spreading 1,200 National Guard over four states is an insufficient response. Adequate National Guard support is critical to helping control potential spillover violence and addressing all our security challenges until we have more CBP agents ready to handle threats on our border. The 6,000 agents that would be deployed under our proposal is a much more aggressive—and appropriate—response.
Unfortunately, our border security amendments failed in the Senate bill. But we will continue working to provide the tools, manpower, and resources needed to protect the border. I have invited the President to join me on a tour of the border communities that are being impacted by this crisis, and that offer still stands. I would welcome the opportunity to show him firsthand the security challenges our border officials and local law enforcement are facing in Texas. Across the nation, the effects of illegal activity are seeping into American communities. This is why securing our borders cannot just be a Texas priority. It must be a national priority, and I call on my colleagues and the administration to urgently address this challenge.