Tester Visits Flathead to Talk Border Security with Law Enforcement

Senator meets with local, tribal and federal officials at Glacier Park International Airport

By Justin Franz
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester speaks with local, tribal and federal law enforcement at an event at Glacier Park International Airport on April 20. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Despite only being a few dozen miles from the Canadian border, local law enforcement told U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on April 20 that one of their primary security concerns is drugs, specifically methamphetamine, coming across the southern Mexican border.

Tester met with local, tribal and federal law enforcement agents during a roundtable discussion at Glacier Park International Airport (GPIA). The meeting came as border security, especially between the United States and Mexico, continues to make headlines. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it was sending thousands of National Guard troops south to help patrol the border.

Tester, Montana’s lone Democrat in Washington D.C., said he supports sending National Guard troops to the border so long as they are only used in a support role and that United States Border Patrol agents still take the lead on all operations. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said earlier this month that he would not deploy Montana’s guard troops to the border “based simply on the whim of the President’s morning Twitter habit.”

During the April 20 meeting, Tester briefly touted his work getting funds for border security in Montana as the ranking member on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. The 2018 funding bill includes $18 billion for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to invest in technology and manpower; $30 million for Operation Stonegarden, a program that provides grants to local law enforcement agencies to facilitate cooperation between local and federal agencies; and $45 million for the Law Enforcement Reimbursement Program, which helps airports like GPIA cover security costs. In 2017, GPIA received $116,800 to pay for security beyond what was provided by the Transportation Security Administration.

Operation Stonegarden is a federal grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Fourteen agencies across the northern border of Montana have received funds from it — in 2017, the Kalispell Police Department received $120,000 and Blackfeet Tribal Police received $100,000. Both agencies are using the funds to help combat drug trafficking.

In recent months, the Trump administration has focused on combating opioid addiction, but during the roundtable discussion, law enforcement in Northwest Montana said methamphetamine is the big problem locally. According to Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, the Northwest Montana Drug Task Force, which covers Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Sanders counties, confiscated or acquired 41 pounds of methamphetamine in 2017 worth about $385,000. Curry told Tester that any support his deputies could get from the federal level would be appreciated.

“Drugs are the foundation of most of our crime in this area, and so if there was one area I’d like to see the federal government throw more money at, it would be drug enforcement,” Curry said.

Tester said he agreed with Curry and vowed to see what he could do at the federal level.

“We’ve got to make sure we have the manpower and technology to get these drugs at the ports of entry before it comes into the country,” Tester said.

In regards to safeguarding the northern border, Tester said he supports using more technology to help border agents patrol the remote stretches of land between the U.S. and Canada. Montana shares a 545-mile border with Canada.

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