In light of the two latest panga smuggling events in Santa Barbara County, Congresswoman Lois Capps (CA-24) highlighted her request to the House of Representative Appropriations Committee to fully fund the Operation Stonegarden program at $50 million in the next fiscal year to help offset the costs incurred by Central Coast law enforcement as they combat panga smuggling off the coastline.
Panga smuggling remains a significant law enforcement concern on the Central Coast. Aside from the obvious potential impact on public safety, combatting panga smuggling is expensive and puts additional strain on already tight local budgets. That's why it's so important that the federal government provide adequate support as they partner with local law enforcement to address this threat. The first step in that process is for Congress to fully fund the Operation Stonegarden program this year," said Congresswoman Capps.
In a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcomittee on Homeland Security, Capps wrote that Operation Stonegarden funding is, "particularly important in my district along the Central Coast of California where we have seen an increase in small-craft smuggling of narcotics and, in some cases human, using traditional Mexican fishing boats called "pangas".
Operation Stongarden is one of three programs in the Department of Homeland Security's Homeland Security Grant Program designed to increase coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, increase preparedness at the local level, and help offset the costs incurred by local law enforcement as they conduct homeland and border security related operations. For example, Operation Stonegarden reimburses local law enforcement for vehicle maintenance and overtime costs incurred as they work on panga smuggling investigations.
Last summer, Capps conducted a Shoreline Security Briefing in Santa Barbara to connect local and federal law enforcement agencies. As a result of this briefing, County law enforcement is now included in the distribution of California's Operation Stonegarden funding. Additionally, following the tragic death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne last December, Capps wrote to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to highlight the issue of panga smuggling off California's coastline and request an update on DHS actions on this issue. Capps' office was subsequently briefed by over a dozen DHS staff.
Full text of the letter is included below:
Dear Chairman Carter and Ranking Member Price,
I am writing to express strong support for Operation Stonegarden, currently funded under the State Homeland Security Grant Program. Specifically, I request a dedicated appropriation to this program of at least $50 million, the same amount as appropriated in fiscal year 2012, to help our local law enforcement protect our borders.
Operation Stonegarden funds are critical to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies as they partner with federal officials to jointly secure U.S. borders and territories, including efforts to combat drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other border concerns. This funding enhance theses entities' capabilities by providing support for additional law enforcement personnel, overtime pay, and travel and lodging for deployment of state and local personnel to further increase our presence along the borders.
This is particularly important in my district along the Central Coast of California where we have seen an increase in small-craft smuggling of narcotics and, in some cases human, using traditional Mexican fishing boats called "pangas." Local law enforcement officials estimate that each boat carries at least 1 ton of illegal drugs, usually marijuana although methamphetamine smuggling has also been reported. In addition, undocumented immigrants have been smuggled on these boats. These individuals who have come from as far as China are a border security risk, but could also be victims of human trafficking. Homeland Security personnel note that between FY11 and FY12, they have intercepted 500% more marijuana smuggled via water passage off the southern and central coast of California.
Thank you for all you do to protect the citizens of the United States. I stand ready to work with you to ensure that we are doing all we can to keep our citizens and our coastline safe. Operation Stonegarden funds are a critical to provide efficient border security and encourage cooperation between federal, state, and local law enforcement. Your strong support of this program will strengthen these links and help secure our borders.
MEMBER OF CONGRESS