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Issue Position: Homeland Security

Issue Position

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Issue Position: Homeland Security

Keeping all Americans safe must be our government's highest priority. Senator Maria Cantwell, a member of the Senate Northern Border Coalition, takes that responsibility very seriously and has worked tirelessly to secure our national borders, safeguard critical infrastructure, and deliver first responders the tools and resources they need to keep our communities safe. Maria has worked to secure our ports by advocating screening of cargo containers at foreign ports before they depart for the U.S., and has sponsored multiple initiatives to add resources to our northern border.

Tripling Border Agents

Maria has repeatedly called attention to security needs along our northern border and the allocation of a disproportionately large share of resources to our border with Mexico. Working with the Northern Border Coalition, Maria has successfully secured funding to triple the number of inspectors and agents stationed on the northern border.

Getting First Responders the Resources They Need

Maria has worked to make sure our first responders have the resources they need to do their job as effectively as possible, and has fought an administration proposal to eliminate counter-terrorism funding for state and local law enforcement. She has continuously fought proposed cuts to first responder funding, backing legislation to restore $790 million in first responder grant funding this year, and has worked to get them the equipment and support needed to address vulnerabilities. This year, she also voted to support $16 billion in badly needed homeland security funding. Only by providing the adequate support, can we honor and equip the men and women who are working around the clock to keep our families and communities safe.

Patrolling the Northern Border with Unmanned Aircraft

Maria is leading efforts to patrol our 4000-mile northern border with unmanned aerial vehicles. Deploying these aircraft along our rural, forested northern border would expand the reach and effectiveness of border agents in a cost-effective way.

Banning Border Tunnels

Legislation introduced by Maria and Senator Dianne Feinstein would outlaw the construction and financing of tunnels under U.S. borders. Because tunnel construction is not currently a crime, suspects only face drug conspiracy or illegal immigration charges, and are not charged for the actual tunnel construction. Maria believes we need to hold those who build and use border tunnels fully accountable.

Closing the Visa Waiver Loophole

Maria authored legislation to push foreign countries to use biometric standards to stop terrorists before they get to the U.S. Her proposal was signed into law as part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. Maria's provision requires the Secretary of State to report to Congress on the progress Visa Waiver Program countries are making towards implementing a biometric visa system to identify potential terrorists. This will allow Congress to better evaluate the continued vulnerability of the program as a loophole that terrorists can exploit to get around our nation's biometric visa identification systems.

Improving Ferry Security

To help make sure our ferries are secure, Maria has introduced legislation to conduct security screening before ferries depart for the U.S. At present, security screenings on international ferry routes between Canada and Washington take place when passengers and vehicles traveling from Canada disembark at ports in the U.S. For example, security screenings of passengers and vehicles traveling from Sidney, B.C. to Anacortes, occur in Anacortes, even though ferries stop in Friday Harbor, along the way. This presents a serious security risk as ferries are most vulnerable during transit.

Helping Northern Border Communities Secure Our Nation

The high cost of prosecuting federal border crimes is weighing down small communities along our northern border. In 2004, Whatcom County, for example, was forced to prosecute more than 85 percent of the criminal apprehensions made by federal law enforcement officers at or near the border, costing the county more than $2.5 million. Modeled on an existing program for the southern border, Maria has introduced legislation to reimburse border communities for the cost of prosecuting cases, detaining suspects, and constructing holding spaces.

Working On National Immigration Reform

During the immigration reform debate earlier this year, Maria pushed for common-sense measures to fix our broken immigration system. We need a solution that is fair to taxpayers and seals our borders. We must get tough on the border, allowing only those who pass a background check, register with the government, pay fines, learn English, meet civic requirements, and continue to work to earn a path to citizenship - making taxpayers out of illegal immigrant workers. Comprehensive immigration law reform also needs to address the realities of our labor market needs and the critical role immigrants play in the U.S. economy.

Screening Cargo Containers at Foreign Ports

Maria and Senator Norm Coleman successfully got the Senate to pass legislation this summer to create a pilot program at three foreign ports to test using integrated technologies to scan cargo containers before they depart for the U.S. Under this system, all containers would be subjected to non-intrusive scanning with gamma x-rays machines and radiation monitors, and photographed to record the container's identification number. Data would then be compiled and analyzed to identify high-risk containers which would require additional screening. The proposal is modeled on an existing pilot underway at two of the Port of Hong Kong's largest terminals. The system provides the best model available today to achieve 100 percent scanning of containers without significantly impeding the flow of commerce. Developing a comprehensive system to screen cargo at foreign ports of origin will help effectively expand our borders and develop a far more reliable port security system that identifies hazardous materials before they get to American ports.

Delivering Port Security

Maria has consistently called for more port security grant funding to address critical security needs. The American Association of Port Authorities estimates we need to provide $400 million in port security grants each year, but the administration has failed to budget for even half this amount. Maria has worked to increase this funding, and prevent the administration's attempts to eliminate the port security grant program. These grants help upgrade security infrastructure like gates and fencing, install security-related lighting systems and remote surveillance systems, hire security personnel, and acquire screening equipment.

Improving Nuclear Security

In early in 2006, Maria called on federal regulators to strengthen border security after it was revealed that undercover agents successfully brought material for "dirty bombs" into the U.S. at a Washington border station with false documents. Maria also pressed homeland security officials to implement an overdue system to track radioactive materials and verify documents presented by those transporting these materials.

Preparing for Bioterrorism

Maria has helped our nation's first responders and health care professionals by backing the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act, signed into law in 2002. The law provides billions to train health care professionals, stockpile vaccines, implement food and agricultural safety measures, improve coordination in the event of a disaster, and keep track of toxins.

Protecting Our Bases

Maria fought to protect the Northwest's bases during the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) process in 2005. Her work helped protect Washington's bases from major cutbacks, and forced the Bush Administration to back down from ill-conceived plans to remove the region's only fighter jets. The state's military presence is responsible for 187,900 jobs and over $7 billion in economic activity.

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