Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today sent a letter to President Obama calling on the administration to fully fund operations and needed upgrades at border ports of entry around the country. The letter highlights recent findings that customs inspections are often underfunded at Arizona and other southwestern border crossings, a problem that has gone largely unrecognized as lawmakers continue to debate increased funding for border security and the presence of National Guard troops in the region.
“As we seek to improve our border regulations, an integral and often overlooked component of national and economic security – our ports of entry – must be given consideration by your supplemental border security funding request,” Grijalva writes to the president. “I urge you to provide our ports of entry with the resources needed to secure our borders.”
The letter requests $300 million for Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the General Services Administration “to upgrade technology and infrastructure and ensure adequate CBP staffing across our southwestern border.” Grijalva calls it “alarming that not one new CBP officer was assigned to a port in Arizona out of the 400 officers allocated this year. The decision not to assign any new CBP officers to Arizona – even at the heavily trafficked crossings in Nogales, San Luis and Douglas – is exacerbating the serious legal and security issues we face.”
The letter notes that since 1993, the federal government has invested in manpower, technology, transportation and infrastructure across the southwestern border, and the number of Border Patrol agents “has more than quintupled from 4,000 to a projected total of 22,800 in 2010. The agency’s budget has exponentially increased over the same period from $400 million to $3.5 billion.” However, the letter notes, “the budget for Customs personnel has seen a relatively minimal boost. Funding for Customs increased from $1.6 billion in 1993 to $2.7 billion in 2010. Of that, 68 percent – nearly three quarters – was consumed by rising inflation. This imbalance severely compromises our national and economic security.”
Grijalva said upon sending the letter that current funding priorities lack balance and need to be reflect the modern realities of border protection and organized criminal behavior.
“More manpower on paper is one thing, but a substantive and comprehensive commitment to border protection requires a great deal more,” Grijalva said. “Underfunding our ports of entry, where the majority of international travel occurs each day, is needless and counterproductive. If we’re serious about reducing cross-border smuggling and other illegal activities, these ports need to be a main focus of that effort.”
As just one example of the need for more attention to customs facilities, Grijalva highlighted a May 25 presentation by the Douglas International Port Authority indicating that the main crossing facility lacks adequate space for vehicle and cargo inspections, suffers from general interior space deficiencies, and lacks proper screening capacity for secondary personal inspections.
“These same issues are cropping up at too many underfunded ports of entry,” Grijalva said. “I’m glad the president is paying close attention to border security, and I look forward to working together to give customs officials the support they need.”