Senator Carper Highlights Progress, Remaining Challenges During Trip to U.S. Southern Border

WASHINGTON –Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs joined his committee colleagues, Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), on a bipartisan delegation trip to Corpus Christi, Hidalgo and McAllen, Texas along the U.S. southern border this past weekend. Following the trip, Sen. Carper highlighted the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead in securing our nation’s southern border.

While in south Texas, the senators met with local ranchers, sheriffs, trade groups, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials to gather information on the challenges associated with securing the border in the region. There, the senators were briefed on strategies to monitor and defend the border and examined technologies and equipment aiding CBP in that mission. The senators were given comprehensive overviews of these tools, including an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), aerostats, and a P-3 aircraft. The senators had a firsthand look at the complex terrain along the river border with Mexico, and were able to tour a port of entry, a Border Patrol station and an adjoining facility to provide temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors and others as they are processed.

During the trip, the senators had the opportunity to hear about the progress made following last summer’s humanitarian crisis along the southern border, when an unprecedented influx of unaccompanied minors and families, mostly from Central America, crossed the border and turned themselves in to Border Patrol, many seeking asylum.

“This trip helped lay the groundwork for our committee to continue a critical discussion on border security and comprehensive immigration reform by providing an important opportunity to examine the complexities and challenges of securing our southern border,” Sen. Carper said. “My colleagues and I saw firsthand how the use of new and innovative technologies, like surveillance aerostats, are helping agents and officers monitor and maintain security. We were also able to hear directly from Border Patrol agents who helped handle last year’s surge of unaccompanied children and families in this region. It was encouraging to learn about the progress that they’ve seen since the crisis, and the steps taken to help agents and officers better respond to any future surges. But while substantive progress is being made, numerous challenges remain. It is critical that we continue our efforts to make the border more secure in a cost-effective and efficient manner as part of our overall strategy to fix our broken immigration system. At the same time, we must address the underlying causes – the lack of hope, economic opportunity, and security – in many nations that continue to push thousands of undocumented migrants to make the dangerous journey to the United States. I am eager to work with Chairman Johnson, Senator Sasse and my colleagues on the committee to drive this conversation forward.”

CBP, as well as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), are agencies under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is currently operating on a short-term continuing resolution ending February 27, 2015. If Congress fails to pass funding for the Department of Homeland Security and forces a shutdown of the Department, front-line personnel will be asked to continue to work without pay, including:

  • Over 40,000 Customs and Border Protection officers needed to keep our borders secure;
  • Over 13,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enforcing our immigration laws and combatting human and drug trafficking;

If Congress continues to keep the Department on a continuing resolution:

  • Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would not be able to fund enough adult detention beds or family detention beds needed to comply with the law. This will result in reduced capacity to adequately respond to seasonal surges in migrants on our nation’s southwest border;
  • ICE will also see a shortfall of $545.7 million to respond to unaccompanied minors and families with children;
  • CBP won’t be able to replace or upgrade border surveillance technology, including upgrades to obsolete remote and mobile video surveillance systems in the high-risk area of the Rio Grande Valley.

“Unfortunately, if the Department of Homeland Security remains on a continuing resolution – or worse, shuts down – our nation’s ability to secure our borders would be negatively affected,” Sen. Carper said. “If the Department doesn’t receive funding by the end of this month and shuts down, tens of thousands of the men and women who protect our borders and enforce our immigration laws would have to work without being paid. Even if we keep the Department on short-term, stop-gap funding, we will prevent it from upgrading critical surveillance technology along high-risk areas of our border. It will also leave the Department with fewer resources to respond to any future surges of unaccompanied minors along our southwest border. This is not how we would want to be treated, and it’s no way for us to treat the men and women who are working around the clock to keep our borders secure. If Congress wants stronger border security and immigration enforcement, a clean funding bill for DHS is what we should be rallying around. In the next several days, I hope that Congress can come together to do the right thing – support the passage of a clean, full-year appropriation for the Department of Homeland Security by February 27th – and then get to work to pass a thoughtful, comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

Last week, Sen. Carper took to the Senate floor to reiterate the urgency and importance for Congress to pass a clean appropriations bill that would provide full year fiscal funding for the Department of Homeland Security.