Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, sent a bipartisan letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking her to reconsider a policy that would make federal grants for local law enforcement agencies along the border through Operation Stonegarden available only to communities along the Southern Border. The U.S. -- Canadian border is the longest land border in the world, and the Montana portion of the border is longer than every other state except Alaska.
"A terrorist is just as deadly and an illegal drug is just as destructive, whether it came into this country across the Southern Border or the Northern," said Rehberg, a Co-Chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. "That simple fact makes limiting federal resources to the Southwest border region short-sighted at best and downright negligent at worst. Montana's local law enforcement is on the front line of border security every bit as much as Arizona or California. Choking off our resources just doesn't make sense."
"It is critical to the nation's security that we maintain adequate levels of funding for northern border counties," said Congressman Bill Owens (D-NY-23), another Co-Chair of the Congressional Northern Border Caucus. "Communities that share a border with Canada face a series of challenges that are unique to their specific land ports and crossings, and we must give patrol agents the tools they need to keep the country safe. To restrict Operation Stonegarden funding to the southwest border leaves the northern boundary open to drug, weapons and human trafficking, and it must be changed to include our region."
The Operation Stonegarden grant program assists local authorities with operational costs and equipment purchases that contribute to border security and enhances coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Currently, Northern Border states like Montana are eligible for the Operation Stonegarden grants. In Fiscal Year 2010, nine Montana counties received grants totaling more than $1.2 million for assisting in border security operations.
However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently decided to limit these grants to communities in the Southwest border region. This decision to completely eliminate funding for Northern border communities is particularly concerning in light of a recent GAO report highlighting security deficiencies along the Northern border and legislation passed in the previous Congress that mandated enhanced cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement.
"We're the eyes and ears on the Northern border when the federal border patrol can't be because they don't have the staff or resources," said Glen Meier, Valley County Sheriff. "Operation Stonegarden grants are critical for the county budget especially since we have to pick up the extra responsibility. What's so special about the Southern border that we don't have on the Northern border? When you close off the Southern border, people are just going to come in through the North and Stonegarden helps us prevent that while protecting Montanans. It's also far cheaper to have local officers enforce the border. It's a great way to save taxpayers money."