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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions - S. 1024

Location: Washington, DC

May 8, 2003

By Ms. CANTWELL (for herself, Mr. CRAPO, Mrs. MURRY, Ms. MURKOWSKI, Mr. LEAHY, Mrs. CLINTON, and Mr. SCHUMER):

S. 1024. A bill to authorize the Attorney General to carry out a program, known as the Northern Border Prosecution Initiative, to provide funds to northern States to reimburse county and municipal governments for costs associated with certain criminal activities, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, today my colleagues and I introduce the Northern Border Prosecution Reimbursement Initiative. This bill outlines an important initiative that would give our northern border States and counties financial assistance in prosecuting criminal and immigration-related cases that arise because of proximity to the border. I thank my fellow northern border Senators and cosponsors, Senators CRAPO, MURRY, MURKOWSKI, LEAHY, CLINTON and SCHUMER for joining with me to introduce and work to pass this important legislation.

This initiative is modeled on a successful program already in place for southern border States. The Southern Border Prosecution Initiative allows States and counties to apply for reimbursement of costs incurred in any federally initiated or declined-referred criminal case. The program is targeted at immigration-related cases, but is not limited only to cases involving immigration charges. Cases arising out of immigration issues but ranging from a misdemeanor property charge to a felony drug conviction are eligible for reimbursement under the southern border program. The program proposed in the legislation introduced today would be operated in the same way.

Federal agencies—such as the Border Patrol and INS—have ongoing efforts to police the Nation's borders, resulting in hundreds of arrests each year. For many reasons, some of those cases are not pursued by Federal law enforcement authorities and instead are handed off to State or county officials for further prosecution. Instead of asking States to absorb those costs—likely at the expense of other important local law enforcement initiatives—the Northern Border Prosecution Reimbursement Initiative allows States and counties to receive compensation for pursuing these immigration-related cases.

The Northern Border Prosecution Reimbursement Initiative would be administered by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. States and counties would be able to apply for reimbursement during an annual application period, with no limit on the number of cases submitted. Under the act, funds distribution is not based on the size or population of a northern border State, but upon the number of eligible cases submitted by each jurisdiction. It is possible for reimbursement to equal 100 percent of costs, though money is distributed on a pro rata basis if applications exceed available revenues. Each of the 14 States along the northern border would be eligible for the reimbursement program: Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

Last year, $40 million was provided to southern border States Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, offsetting the costs of prosecuting immigration-related cases. For 2002, $50 million was allocated to the program. My legislation simply authorizes $28 million for Fiscal Year 2004 be made available to northern border states for the same purpose.

In the years leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, activity along the northern border had shifted primarily from a focus on immigration issues to those related to trade and commerce. However, homeland security has grown into a paramount concern in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks, and our States and local governments are increasingly bearing an unfair financial burden in protecting and patrolling our national borders. There are hundreds of crossings along the 4,000 mile long northern border between the United States and Canada, and though improvements have been made to tighten security, the northern border has yet to receive the resources it needs to adequately enforce our Nation's immigration laws and border restrictions.

The need for greater enforcement efforts along the northern border became glaringly evident in 1998 when Ahmed Ressam, a terrorist trained at one of Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, was arrested shortly after crossing the Canadian border into Washington State. Explosives and other bomb-making materials were found in the trunk of Ressam's car. This frightening incident made clear the vulnerabilities we face along the porous northern border, vulnerabilities that became even more concerning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In the last two years, the Senate has taken steps to improve northern border security. I have worked with Senators from the 14 States that comprise the northern border—including my colleagues who join me as cosponsors on this legislation today—and we have successfully devoted more resources to northern border security efforts. The 2001 Department of Defense Appropriation's bill included $55.8 million for 500 additional Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors along the northern border—a 105 percent increase in staffing levels. That legislation also provided $23.9 million to transfer 100 border patrol agents and hire 100 new agents. Working to protect our northern border has been a bipartisan effort, enjoying cooperation from senators across the aisle and across the country. Now it is time to take another step toward greater border and national security and approve the Northern Border Prosecution Reimbursement Initiative.

The costs of homeland security are increasingly being borne by States and local governments, an issue that this legislation tackles head-on. Without giving States and counties the necessary resources to pay for cases initiated by Federal authorities, other important local law enforcement initiatives will undoubtedly be shortchanged. States and the Federal Government must work together if our borders are to be truly safe. The Northern Border Prosecution Reimbursement Initiative is a mechanism by which all of the resources of the criminal justice system—local, State, and Federal—can work in harmony.

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