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Comprehensive Border Security Plan Sought by House Subpanel

by Candice Miller on June 3, 2011

By Eugene Mulero, CQ TODAY – HOMELAND SECURITY
http://homeland.cq.com/hs/display.do?docid=3881704&sourcetype=6
A House panel approved a bill Thursday that would require the Obama administration to come up with a comprehensive plan for securing U.S. border entry ports within five years.
 
The House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee approved the bill (HR 1299) by voice vote. It would require the Department of Homeland Security to submit to Congress a plan within 180 days of the bill’s enactment that details how the department would achieve “operational control” of all U.S. ports of entry.
 
Customs and Border Protection uses “operational control” when referring to areas where their agents are deployed. Some House Republicans criticized the Obama administration’s border security strategy after the Government Accountability Office found this year that only 44 percent of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles were under “operational control” at the end of fiscal 2010.
 
“We want to be careful about spending money in an ad hoc fashion, and developing a comprehensive and coherent plan to achieve ‘operational control’ of both borders is certainly our goal,” said panel Chairwoman Candice S. Miller of Michigan, who sponsored the legislation.
 
Before approving the legislation, the panel adopted a substitute amendment offered by Miller that would require Homeland Security to work with the New Mexico-based Sandia National Laboratory if the department opts to measure security between border ports of entry by a standard other than “operational control.”
 
Ranking Democrat Henry Cuellar of Texas backed the measure, noting that as “we approach the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the committee must continue to do its part to help ensure the security” of the United States.
 
The panel rejected three amendments offered by Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee that would have included language in the bill stating that not every border town in the United States is dangerous; would have required customs officials to protect the civil and constitutional rights of “persons encountered” along the Unites States border; and would have required officials to provide safety to persons found to be enduring life-threatening weather conditions and terrain along the border.
 
The committee also approved, by voice vote, a bill (HR 1922), sponsored by Republican Ben Quayle of Arizona, that would allow U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to have access to federal lands within 150 miles of the southwest border for security purposes. Since 2006, the Border Patrol and agencies from the departments of Interior and Agriculture have operated under a memorandum of understanding regarding land management concerns, which dictates how border enforcement activities should be conducted in protected areas.
 
The committee approved by voice vote a bill (HR 915), sponsored by Cuellar, that would establish the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force.
 
The group would be composed of multi-agency personnel authorized to collaborate with state, municipal, tribal and foreign governments to find ways to reduce security threats along the U.S. border. The group would be named after Zapata, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who was killed in Mexico earlier this year.
 
Miller said the full committee should consider the measures later this month.

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