Capitol Comment: Secure Borders Necessary for Safe and Prosperous Texas Communities

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison Apr. 30, 2009, 8:13am

Over 1,200 miles of international border snakes along the Rio Grande through Texas, giving our state the distinction of holding more international boundary than all other states on the Mexican border combined.

While this position grants Texas unmatched access to the economic benefits of international commerce and has deeply enriched our state's culture and heritage, our shared border also leaves us particularly vulnerable to the challenges associated with illegal immigration and Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

On a typical day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials arrest 73 criminals at ports of entry, seize 7,621 pounds of narcotics, and apprehend roughly 2,796 individuals who have illegally entered the U.S.

Compounding these challenges are the increasingly brazen and sophisticated threats from Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Mexican drug gangs have extended their operations into all areas of Texas and the nation.

They control most of the U.S. drug market and have established ties with street gangs in American cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, and New York. And as crime and violence surge along the Mexican border, Texas communities are on the front lines of this escalating threat.

More must be done at every level of government to secure our borders and ensure the continued safety and prosperity of communities in Texas and across the nation. This can only be accomplished through a balanced strategy that includes expansive and well-trained border patrol forces, substantial infrastructure, and adequate resources for local law enforcement officials.

This has been an important legislative priority for me, and our efforts on this front have improved exponentially over the past 15 years. But we must continue to emphasize border security to keep up with mounting challenges.

In 1993, when I first arrived in the Senate, I was alarmed to learn that there were fewer than 3,600 Border Patrol agents assigned to the entire southern boundary of the U.S.

For the next several years, I worked with my colleagues in the Senate to strengthen these forces, and, by 2000, the number of agents defending the southern border reached 8,580.

We have worked to match the growing pressures on the border by continuing to expand the presence of border patrol agents. With the most recent addition of 2,200 agents this year, we have raised the total number of agents assigned to the southern border to more than 17,600. This represents an increase of nearly 500 percent since I began to serve in the Senate.

Our agents along the border are most effective when they have the resources and equipment they need to do their jobs. This year, Congress increased funding for CBP over $10.5 billion, including $875 million for border security fencing, infrastructure, and technology.

We have also worked to increase funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators, and detention officers.

Additionally, $1 billion has been dedicated to removing deportable criminal aliens, and we have increased our capacity to detain up to 33,400 individuals daily.

As well as providing for federal law enforcement activities, we must also support the important efforts led by state and local law enforcement agencies in southern border states. I recently secured resources to aid local law enforcement in their struggle to combat criminal narcotics activity stemming from the border.

The defense provided by well-equipped border forces must be bolstered by infrastructure, which can provide an additional deterrent to breaking the law by entering our country illegally. I have consistently supported legislation to require and to fund the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border.

Although most of the fence is now constructed, I recently supported an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2010 Budget to ensure that future appropriations bills will fully fund construction of the remaining portions of the fence.

To help address the problem of violence in Mexico and along the border, I am a strong proponent of specialized initiatives, like Project Gunrunner, that target criminal arms smuggling organizations who are directing the illegal flow of weapons from the U.S. into the hands of the cartels in Mexico. I have cosponsored this initiative with Senator Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico.

These improvements in border protection have mitigated the flow of illegal drugs and, thus far, violence spilling over into Texas communities.

But we can never declare our borders unassailable or adopt a complacent attitude toward the security of our homeland. We must vigilantly secure our borders, while working with our international partners toward the common good of our citizens.

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