A few folks have asked me why the Department of Homeland Security has decided to rebuild Montana’s Port of Whitetail – a 45-year old, asbestos-contaminated facility that doesn’t see as much traffic as America’s southern border.
My response is simple: Our borders are only as strong as their weakest link. And as a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I’m fighting to secure our borders by strengthening each and every link, including remote areas and Montana’s frontier.
Since I’ve been in the U.S. Senate, I’ve said we need to do homeland security better – and smarter.
That begins by securing all our borders. And we’re starting to see results. Illegal border crossings in the south have gone down to levels not seen since the 1970s.
But we are fooling ourselves if we think the immigration problem is solved. We’ve still got lots of work to do on the southern border, but I’ll keep fighting to make that border secure to keep illegal immigrants out.
Unfortunately, too many folks in Washington forget about the border Montanans see every day. That is why my first legislative proposal in the Senate was to get the non-partisan Government Accountability Office to give Congress some recommendations about how we can do a better job securing the northern border.
Our northern border is vastly more complicated than the southern border. It’s wide open. And it’s uncrowded. We have to keep our eyes open for drug smugglers and for terrorists who would do harm to our country.
To do that, we need to make improvements all along the border. We need to rely on technology to help us cover the gaps between our ports. Whether it’s as complicated as remote sensors or unmanned aerial vehicles, or as simple as night-vision goggles, we’ve got to give the men and women of the Border Patrol all the tools they need to do their jobs.
And we need to make the ports themselves better. That means investing in modern screening equipment, so that Customs Inspectors have the best tools available to detect smuggling and to ensure that anyone who shouldn’t be in this country does not get in.
Some folks in Texas are sore that they aren’t getting more money from the federal government for their border needs. But the threat doesn’t always go where the most people live. Consider these headlines on the northern border this summer:
• Nearly $34,000 in undeclared cash seized from two individuals trying to enter the U.S. at the port of Portal, N.D. (Population 131).
• 577 pounds of marijuana seized by Border Patrol agents near Maple Falls, Wash. (Population 277).
• 238 pounds of cocaine seized at the Blaine border crossing in Washington.
• And in June, the Border Patrol seized more than $11,000 worth of marijuana and cocaine in Havre.
Whether it’s drug smugglers, terrorists or illegal immigrants, they’ll try and go where they think our weak points are.
And we ought to make sure that we close the gaps – all the gaps – and not pretend that the threats to our country exist only on one border.
I’ll keep working in the Senate to shine the spotlight on the northern border. Montana and our nation demand nothing less.
Jon Tester is a Democratic U.S. senator from Big Sandy.
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