Blaine border lacks staffing, resources
of entry at the U.S./Canadian border are in need of more
funding, staffing and resources, members of the U.S. House
of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security said
In a joint field meeting, members gathered at Bellingham City Council chambers to listen to testimony from local border patrol agents and law enforcement officials on their recommendations for increased border security – especially at the Blaine border crossings.
Timothy Lowenberg, the security chair of the task force that was formed to coordinate U.S. federal state and local arrangements for the 2010 Winter Olympics, said although staffing levels have increased significantly since Congress passed the Intelligence Reform bill, many improvements are still needed.
“The (winter Olympics) are anticipated to bring an estimated 20,700 athletes from more than 80 nations, as well as 10,000 media representatives and more than 325,000 spectators from around the world within a few kilometers of the Washington/Canadian border,” he said. “That represents unprecedented state and federal security challenges.”
Members of the panel conceded that for too long, Congress has not provided the funding necessary to keep the northern U.S. border functioning at an optimal level.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) asked Blaine border sector chief Ronald Henley if he thought current staffing levels were inadequate.
Henley replied that while Blaine CBP border agents are doing a good job with the resources they have, current staffing levels fall short of approximately 400 employees.
He added that, without the assistance of other agencies such as the Whatcom County sheriff’s department, the Coast Gaurd, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Blaine border sector would fall “way behind curve.”
When asked if he thought unmanned aerial drones patrolling the border from the Pacific coast to Montana, Henley said yes, but that new technology must be coupled with staffing increases.
“The technology has got to augment the human resources,” Henley said. “It doesn’t do any good to see something at the top of the Cascades if we don’t have the staffing to respond to it.”
Meanwhile, some members indicated the issue has taken a turn away from U.S. security needs and toward a more partisan debate on immigration.
“This is the region of the millennium bomber,” said Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), a member of the subcommittee on emergency, science and technology, in response to flyers distributed by protesters outside the courthouse rallying on both sides of the immigration debate.
“And unfortunately, we now have a controversy between building fences and criminalizing undocumented individuals rather than doing what is important and that is to respond to the needs of the northern border with a strong security initiative.”