Lankford Questions Panel on Securing Southern Border
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s Q&A on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management, on which Lankford serves as the lead Republican, entitled, “Improving Security, Trade, and Travel at Land Ports of Entry at the Southwest Border.” Lankford’s questions focused on improving federal law enforcement operations at our ports of entry, ensuring we can continue to recruit quality agents at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), curtailing the flow of drugs across our border, and improving technology at ports of entry to protect national security but keep people and goods moving efficiently.
Witnesses for today’s hearing included Kevin K. McAleenan, the former Acting Secretary (2019) for the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Anthony Reardon, the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union; Samuel Vale, the president of Starr-Camargo Bridge Company (testifying on behalf of the Border Trade Alliance); and Guillermo Valencia, the president of Valencia International, Inc. (testifying on behalf of the Greater Nogales and Santa Cruz County Port Authority).
On the morale at CBP and continuing to recruit the best and brightest
Lankford: Mr. Reardon, I want to ask you, what are the major barriers that we have to hiring additional CBP personnel?
Reardon: I think probably one of the main barriers is that—I’ve said for years that the current CBP officers, and this really goes beyond just the officers to other employees—I think CBP employees should be the best recruiters for the Agency. And unfortunately the morale for many years has been low. And some of that relates back to what you’ve heard me talking about in my opening statements and in my written statement about staffing. You know, there are so few staffs, so much fewer than are needed, and as a result, many employees have to work a great deal of overtime, and it impacts their personal wellbeing; it impacts their families; and creates real hardships on them. And as a result, the moral’s low, and they are not the best recruiters…
Lankford: Were you surprised at President Biden’s budget flat-lined all of DHS and flat-lined hiring, that it did not extend new hiring in CBP?
Reardon: …we believe that more staffing is needed, and I certainly hope that Congress will provide more money to CBP. I think the last thing that is needed is a situation where we have to look at furloughs for employees, especially at a time when we’re looking, Senator, at the economy rebounding. And travel is going to start really increasing. That would be a problem…
On the increases in drug trafficking across our southern border, even during the pandemic
Lankford: In Oklahoma, unlike Arizona, I’m not a border state, but what happens at the border certainly affects us. We have the flow of narcotics that is coming into our state as well. As you’ve mentioned already, just fentanyl has increased three-times in the last year. So while COVID time we’ve seen a decrease in a lot of the movement, the exception to that has been fentanyl coming into the country and being interdicted. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in that.
On improving security technology on the border to also promote ease of travel
Lankford: My staff has heard from several different sources that the border crossing cards are occasionally collected, used by cartels, and they will hand them out to drivers that have the physical appearance that’s similar to what they’re seeing on the card and try to be able to move individuals and contraband through based on a false border crossing card that doesn’t line up with the individual that’s actually using it at that moment. What can we do to continue to be able to increase the speed of truck traffic coming across but maintain security? Are there things that we can actually implement, are there processes in place?
McAleenan: The arc of this progress on the border has been really impressive over the last 15 years or so, going from, really, an oral declaration of citizenship to only seven accepted documents under the Western Hemisphere Travel initiative, going to much more secure documents, going to Trusted Travelers programs like Century being able to segment those travels and have higher confidence in their background. But absolutely more can be done. And I know that CBP is working on incorporating more biometrics and backing up the documents with facial recognition that can be done at-speed for pedestrian and those in personally owned vehicles. I think that’s a really important augmentation to the security of identities crossing the border.