Smarter, less wasteful border security

Last week, I was joined by 26 of my colleagues in introducing a bill to rescind President Trump’s misguided executive order requiring construction of a “border wall” along our entire southern border with Mexico. I believe our country deserves a smarter, less wasteful approach to border security. Unfortunately, President Trump’s border wall is a wasteful endeavor that would cost us far more than any benefits it will provide.

For some time now, the president has promised us that a wall along our entire southern border will solve all of our problems, and that Mexico will pay for it.

But the truth is, a wall won’t solve anything, and Mexico won’t pay a penny. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just last week, President Trump requested nearly $3 billion in supplemental funding at the border for this year alone—nearly half of which would be used to build the wall. A memo from the president’s budget office called for unprecedented cuts to vital agencies such as the Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration to continue to pay for wall construction in 2018.

That just doesn’t make any sense. The Coast Guard provides helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and fast boats for our southern border that are vital to interdicting drugs headed for our communities. TSA deploys teams of agents to patrol our airports and mass transit hubs for suspicious activity, looking to prevent attacks like the one we saw in Brussels.

To build their wall, the Trump administration intends to rob Peter to pay Paul – cutting funds from programs that have proven their worth in the years since September 11th in order to deliver on a campaign promise.

As the former Chairman and then Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, I have long supported smart, effective solutions that will help Customs and Border Protection agents achieve their mission of making our border more secure. That’s why over the past years I’ve made several trips to our southern and northern borders and spoken to Department of Homeland Security officials on the ground. On each trip, the officials I encountered would tell me again and again that technology is the key to securing our border.

This week, I again attended a hearing where representatives of our Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and officers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers discussed the challenges facing their teams each day. Not one of the witnesses testified that erecting a border wall would solve our immigration challenges. Instead, they requested additional funding for customs officials and inspectors in order to facilitate trade and stop drugs at our ports of entry. President Trump’s executive orders and budget proposal do nothing to address that need.

President Trump’s plan to build a wall is also an expensive and short-sighted substitute for addressing the root causes of why people come here in the first place. Continued efforts to secure our southern border will be wasted if we don’t also work with our neighbors in Central America to address root causes of migration to the United States. In the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — widespread violence, lack of economic opportunity and lack of rule of law lead many Central Americans to undertake the dangerous journey to our southern border. Until conditions in the region start to improve, these desperate families will continue to flee.

In 2015, these three countries developed a multi-lateral agreement, called the “Alliance for Prosperity,” to improve social and economic conditions in the region. The following year, Congress agreed to provide some funding to support the countries’ efforts, at the urging of former Vice President Biden.

Earlier this week, I met with President Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras to discuss his administration’s continued efforts to uphold the Alliance for Prosperity. He shared with me promising signs that his administration is working to root out the corruption, violence and dire economic conditions that compel so many of its citizens to flee to the United States, including initiatives to crack down on drug trafficking, expand public education and jumpstart steady economic growth by investing in roads, bridges, ports and airports. Unfortunately, President Trump’s proposed budget would cut needed assistance to the region.

If President Trump is serious about securing the border and stemming the tide of migrants entering our country illegally, he should work with Congress to address the root causes of migration, on comprehensive immigration reform that’s fair and humane, and on smart and effective investments to our border security. Instead of wasting time and taxpayer dollars on an ineffective wall, I hope the president, and others in Congress will join me in these efforts in the months to come.