Northern Border Protection Bill Passes U.S. Senate

A bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator Heitkamp focused on protecting and strengthening security along our Northern border passed unanimously in the Senate. Senator Heitkamp’s full news release follows below.

— Official News Release, Senator Heitkamp —

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, today announced that their bipartisan bill to help assess and strengthen American security at the Northern Border – the longest common land border in the world – passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.

Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bipartisan Northern Border Security Review Act directly responds to the feedback Heitkamp and then-U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas heard in April 2015 from federal, state, county and local officials and law enforcement when she brought him to North Dakota to tour the Northern Border. By requiring the DHS to conduct a comprehensive examination that fully evaluates security threats and challenges at the border, Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bill would address the concerns federal border security officials and local sheriffs discussed with Heitkamp and Mayorkas about cooperation issues among law enforcement, and challenges recruiting and retaining a strong border security workforce. She heard similar concerns earlier this month during meetings with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and management at the Portal Point of Entry, and in meetings on border security in Grand Forks and Minot. At 5,500 miles long, including 1,500 miles between Alaska and Canada, the Northern Border has 120 border crossings, many of which are small and in rural areas.

“Keeping our country safe means making sure all of our nation’s borders – both north and south – are adequately protected to meet modern day challenges,” said Heitkamp. “When former Deputy Secretary Mayorkas and I visited Pembina last year, and during my visit to the Portal visit to the Portal Point of Entry earlier this month, I heard from federal, state, and local officials about the challenges they face every day. Taking their concerns to heart, our bipartisan bill aims to address issues such as recruiting and retaining border patrol agents and accessing resources in remote areas. This legislation will help our border security and law enforcement officials do what they do best – keep our communities safe. It’s great news for each of those officers and for every North Dakotan that our bill passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate.

“Securing our borders and keeping New Hampshire safe is one of my top priorities, and I am very pleased that this important legislation passed the Senate unanimously,” said Ayotte. “Our bill will ensure that we have a full understanding of the northern border’s needs, strengths, and vulnerabilities so that we can protect our country from current or potential criminal or terror threats. New Hampshire law enforcement officials, particularly those serving Coos County, are critical to maintaining the security of our border with Canada and we must ensure that federal authorities are working collaboratively with them to identify, understand, and confront threats.”

“My committee’s oversight has shown that the northern border is far from secure, and this insecurity poses various risks to America,” said U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI). “This bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to assess the threats of terrorism and criminal activity across our northern border, including in the Great Lakes region. I’m proud of the work we’ve done on a bipartisan basis to get this bill through the Senate, and I urge the House to quickly take up and pass this legislation.”

Approximately 300,000 people and $910 million in trade cross the Northern Border every day, representing the largest bilateral flow of goods and people in the world. Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bill would require a comprehensive examination of how to strengthen American security at the Northern Border by looking into issues with:

  • Recruiting and retaining border security officials to cover the Northern Border, including at more remote areas of the border;
  • Determining tools border security officials need to effectively combat drug and human trafficking at the Northern Border;
  • Identifying technology that could expand the reach of border agents; and
  • Finding vulnerabilities in cooperation between Canadian, state, county, local, and tribal law enforcement.

Cosponsors of Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bill include Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Click here to view a summary of the bill.

The United States and Canada conducted a joint border and threat risk assessment in 2011. Subsequently, the DHS published its Northern Border Strategy in 2012. Given the constant changes along the Northern Border, it is critical that the United States update its threat assessment so it can effectively respond to today’s challenges.

The legislation follows a variety of actions Heitkamp has taken over the past two years to make sure the Northern Border receives the proper attention, including:

  • Bringing then-DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to North Dakota. When Heitkamp brought Mayorkas to Pembina’s Port of Entry and Border Patrol Facilities in April 2015, they spoke about ways to improve issues federal border security officials and local county sheriffs face in attracting and maintaining a strong border security workforce. During the visit, they also discussed ways to improve efforts to combat human and drug trafficking, as well as ways to expand the use of technology to help protect the border.
  • Making the Northern Border a priority for a U.S. Senate committee. Following Mayorkas’ visit, Heitkamp successfully called for the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where she helps lead a subcommittee, to hold a hearing on the Northern Border. When that hearing took place, Heitkamp questioned federal border security officials about the issues she heard about firsthand in Pembina with Mayorkas. In March, Heitkamp pressed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on the need to pay closer attention to protecting the Northern Border. In June 2014, she brought U.S. Senator Tom Carper, now Ranking Member of the Committee, on a tour of the Northern Border.
  • Reducing drug crime and flow at the border. In August 2014, Heitkamp joined White House Drug Czar Michael Botticelli to unveil a new national strategy to fight drug crimes in the Bakken and at the Northern Border that she specifically pushed for.
  • Holding border security meetings in Minot, Portal and Grand Forks. Heitkamp visited the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Grand Forks in January 2014, and she held a discussion in June 2014 with law enforcement in Minot to discuss stressed law enforcement personnel in the border region. Earlier this month, Heitkamp visited the Portal Port of Entry where she met with CBP officers and managers about the challenges they face in helping secure the Northern Border.

Josh Wolsky

Editor and Publisher of TheMinotVoice, Developer of the #ForMinot Network,  Co-Host of #GoodTalk Minot, Advocate and Friend of the Souris River, Former City Alderman, and clearly -- all things #MakeMinot. Go ahead, don't wait for permission!

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