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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. COLLINS. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

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Ms. COLLINS. Madam President, I rise this evening to discuss an amendment I have filed to the immigration bill. It is Senate amendment No. 1255. It would ensure that the funding for an important border security program known as Operation Stonegarden continues to be allocated by the Department of Homeland Security based on risk. Without my amendment, 90 percent of the $50 million in funding for this program awarded annually would be earmarked for the southwest border. What I am proposing is that we not put a percentage in the bill but, rather, allow for a risk-based assessment of where Operation Stonegarden monies would best be spent. This program has been extraordinarily successful in my State of Maine. It has helped Federal, county, State, and local law enforcement to pool their resources and work together to help secure our border.

While the southwest border is much more likely to make the evening news, we must not forget about our northern border. As the Department of Homeland Security pointed out when it released its first northern border strategy in June 2012: ``The U.S.-Canadian border is the longest common border in the world'' and it presents ``unique security challenges based on geography, weather, and the immense volume of trade and travel.''

According to a report released by the GAO in 2010, the Border Patrol had situational awareness of only 25 percent of the 4,000-mile northern border and operational control of only 32 miles--less than 1 percent. We will hear those terms discussed a lot during the debate on immigration with respect to the southwest border. I think it is important that we not forget we also have a 4,000-mile northern border.

This lack of situational awareness and operational control is especially troubling because as GAO has observed: ``DHS reports that the terrorist threat on the northern border is actually higher [than the southern border], given the large expansive area with very limited law enforcement coverage.''

In the same report, GAO noted that the maritime border on the Great Lakes and rivers is vulnerable to use by small vessels as a conduit for the potential smuggling and exploitation by terrorists, alien smuggling, trafficking of illicit drugs, and other contraband and criminal activity. Also, the northern border's waterways frequently freeze during the winter and can be easily crossed by foot, vehicle, or snowmobile. The northern air border is also vulnerable to low-flying aircraft that, for example, smuggle drugs by entering U.S. airspace from Canada.

Additionally, Customs and Border Protection reports that further threats result from the fact that the northern border is exploited by well-organized smuggling operations which can potentially also support the movement of terrorists and their weapons.

There is also, regrettably, significant criminal activity on the northern border. In the same report, GAO noted that in fiscal year 2010 DHS has reported spending nearly $3 billion in its efforts to interdict and investigate illegal northern border activity, annually making approximately 6,000 arrests and interdicting approximately 40,000 pounds of illegal drugs at and between the northern border ports of entry.

The Operation Stonegarden grant program is an effective resource for addressing security concerns on our northern, southern, western, and coastal borders. Over the past 4 years, approximately $247 million in Operation Stonegarden funds has been allocated to 19 border States using a risk-based analysis for determining the allocations rather than the formula-based analysis that is included in this immigration bill.

Earmarking 90 percent of funding from Operation Stonegarden to the southwest border is ill-advised. Operation Stonegarden grants should be used to help secure our northern, southern, and coastal borders by funding joint operations between the Border Patrol and State, county, and local law enforcement. These joint operations can act as a force multiplier in areas that would otherwise be unguarded altogether.

My amendment would ensure that DHS continues to have the flexibility it needs to make risk-informed decisions about where Operation Stonegarden funds will best serve the security of our Nation's borders.

I urge my colleagues to support my amendment, and I hope it will be brought up at some point tomorrow.

Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor.

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