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Thomas C.
Democrat DE

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  • Department of Homeland Security Funding

    by Senator Thomas R. Carper

    Posted on 2015-02-12

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    CARPER. As the Presiding Officer, along with Senator Johnson and myself, met the men and women of the Border Patrol last weekend, including Agent Garza, we heard about their work, and it is hard to ignore the fact that they might not know if they will be getting a paycheck next month when the continuing resolution which funds the Department of Homeland Security expires in actually about 2 weeks, on February 27.

    Many of them don't know if they will be able to obtain the technology or supplies they need to do the jobs as effectively as possible either. This is not the way we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes, but it is how I think we are treating the men and women who work around the clock to protect our borders and to keep our Nation safe and secure. Those of us here in Congress can change that, and I think we should.

    Two of our colleagues--Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland--have introduced a clean appropriations bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security for the balance of the fiscal year, up through the end of September. Overall, the funding provisions in their bill, S. 272, which I understand both Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee agreed to in December--just 2 months ago--provide just under $40 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of the fiscal year. I think that is an increase from year to year of about $400 million. It sounds like a lot money. It is about a 1-percent increase above 2014 funding. This bill would ensure that Department employees get their paychecks on time and have the resources they need to best meet the Department's critical mission and the security needs of our Nation.

    The clean bill put forward by Senators Shaheen and Mikulski would [[Page S977]] take additional measures to secure order and enforce our immigration laws--something that I know is a priority to me and I know to our colleagues on both sides of the aisle. In fact, most of the funding increase in the Shaheen-Mikulski bill would go to border security and immigration enforcement.

    The bill our colleagues have put forward contains a little more than $10 million for Customs and Border Protection--an increase of approximately $118 million above last year's enacted level. This funding level would support the largest operational force levels for the agency in its history--a total of more than 21,000 Border Patrol agents and nearly 24,000 enforcement officers.

    But if the Department of Homeland Security remains on a continuing resolution--or worse, shuts down--we just won't be as effective as we ought to be in securing our Nation's borders. If Congress forces a shutdown of the Department--I hope we won't--frontline personnel would be asked to continue to work without pay. We met some of them just a few days ago when we were on the border. They don't look like fast boats, but they move pretty good. We went zipping up and down the Rio Grande River looking for people trying to slip across the border, looking for folks who were trying to bring contraband--drugs, illegal drugs--across the border.

    There are some 40,000 Customs and Border Protection officers who are needed to keep our borders secure. If we allow the funding for the Department to lapse on February 27, we are going to expect these guys and gals to still come to work. We are not going to pay them, at least not in a timely way.

    If Congress continues to keep the Department on a continuing resolution, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will see a shortfall--I am told a little over half a billion dollars--to respond to unaccompanied minors and families with children.

    In addition, Customs and Border Protection won't be able replace or upgrade border surveillance technology, including upgrades to obsolete remote and mobile video surveillance systems in the high-risk area of the Rio Grande Valley.

    The drone is a pilotless aircraft. We fly aircraft similar to these all over the planet. We fly a number of them along the border of our country with Mexico in an effort to try to see, visualize, and detect people making their way to our border, maybe just to come across, maybe to flee a bad situation in their own country. Maybe it is to bring drugs or other things that are illegal into our country. We are not going to be able to replace or upgrade this kind of technology and bring it to high-risk areas along the Rio Grande Valley.

    Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently said-- I want to quote Secretary Johnson just briefly. He said, ``Border security is not free. The men and women of [the Department of Homeland Security] need a partner in Congress to fund their efforts.'' He added, ``Time is running out.'' Those were his words. I couldn't agree with him more.

    In the next week or so, I pray that those of us in Congress will come together and will do what I believe is the right thing; that is, support the passage of a clean full-year appropriations bill for the remainder of this fiscal year for the Department of Homeland Security and do it by February 27.

    After we have done that, for God's sake, let's get to work on crafting thoughtful, comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform law for our country, one that better secures our borders, one that strengthens our economy, and one that reduces our budget deficit over the next two decades by hundreds of billions of dollars. That is what we ought to do. I would pledge here today to my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, one or two Independents, and our Presiding Officer, that we will meet you in the middle and do our dead level best to make sure we meet our responsibilities.

    With that, I am looking for others on the floor who may want to speak. I don't see anybody.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Sasse). The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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