New border security bill:$300 million for U.S. border counties

Published 29 April 2010

Lawmakers call for a $300 million grant program for border law enforcement officials for counties on the U.S.-Mexico border; counties will be able to apply for expedited grant funding to buy monitoring equipment, communications technologies, night view cameras, laptops, vehicles, drones and helicopters

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) wants to take control of the border with Mexico by filling it with military technology like drones, radar and night-view cameras. Cornyn on Wednesday proposed the Southern Border Security Assistance Act, a $300 million grant program for border law enforcement officials.

p>El Paso Times’s Diana Washington Valdez writes that under the proposal, state, county, city agencies, and sheriff’s departments would be able to apply for expedited grant funding to buy monitoring equipment, communications technologies, night-view cameras, laptops, vehicles, drones and helicopters. They would also be able to use the money to hire and train staff in prosecuting drug cases; hire additional judges; provide administrative support, dispatchers and jailers; and cover overtime expenses.


U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) is working with Cornyn to get the proposal approved. Both also are trying to get Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization to operate a drone at the Texas-Mexico border.

The FAA has been dragging its feet on this,” Cornyn said during a news conference Wednesday. “There are only five drones available for border security. Three of them are on the northern border, and neither of the two in the southern border is for Texas.”

He said he and Hutchison plan to speak to high-level FAA officials to find out what is delaying the approval.

Hutchison said, “For communities along the border with Mexico, the threat of violence is becoming all too real, but the federal government has yet to fully step up and do what is necessary to take on these challenges.”

Valdez writes that when Cornyn was in El Paso last week, he received private briefings from ICE, ATF, FBI, U.S. military, and the U.S. attorney’s office. He crafted his proposal based largely on information he received from briefings about the situation at the border.

Cornyn said he is looking into whether the Air Force-Army JSTARS can be deployed in the fight against the Mexican drug cartels.

The U.S. military has used the air-to-ground Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System in Iraq and Afghanistan. JSTARS can determine the direction, speeds, and patterns of activity of ground vehicles, helicopters and groups of people, and it can operate in all kinds of weather.

Cornyn, however, indicated that he is reluctant to share U.S. military technology with Mexico, because of fears that drug dealers will infiltrate government agencies and jeopardize the intelligence-gathering operations.

The senator said the Merida Initiative, which earmarked $1.3 billion in assistance for Mexico to fight the drug cartels, may not be the best solution. As of last September, only $26 million of the money had been spent. After that was made public, $113 million worth of equipment had arrived in Mexico by March, “but implementation challenges remain,” according to an 19 April Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

U.S. lawmakers are considering a modified version of the Merida Initiative. Other lawmakers are renewing calls to use the U.S. military to assist with border security.

Texas state Rep. Ted Poe (R-Humble), and a group of bipartisan lawmakers, called on President Barack Obama on Wednesday to grant requests from border governors, including Texas governor Rick Perry, to assign National Guard soldiers to the border.

In a letter to Obama, Poe and the others asked that the soldiers be armed, be allowed to defend themselves if fired upon while assisting the Border Patrol and other law officers, and be given clear rules of engagement.

As you know, the level of violence along the border continues to increase,” the letter said. “Since January 2008, nearly 5,000 homicides have been committed in Juárez, Mexico, making it one of the most violent cities in the world.”

Poe said the murders in Juárez of Lesley Enriquez, a U.S. Consulate employee, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, a 10-year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, and the slaying of long-time rancher Robert Krentz at the Arizona border, brought the issue of border security to the national forefront.

He also said the Border Patrol reported a 46 percent increase in assaults to its agents along the border, from 752 in 2007 to 1,097 in 2008, and that the El Paso Sector Border Intelligence Center also warned of possible retaliation against law officers in the border region.