Tester calls for border security

Helena Independent Record

by Martin Kidston

HELENA – Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., continued pushing this week to make funding security improvements along the northern border a higher priority, urging members

of the Senate Appropriations Committee to invest more on security measures and less on the Real ID program.

He made the suggestions in a letter to Sens. Robert Byrd-D, W.Va., and Thad Cochran-R, Miss.

"We need more boots on the ground and more eyes in the air to make sure the northern border is as secure as possible," Tester said.

In his letter, dated March 27, Tester pointed out the lack of air and ground radar along the northern border – a fact he observed firsthand last year after meeting with agents and flying the border.

The lack of such technology, he wrote, "creates a significant potential vulnerability" along the border, which marks the 49th parallel and is comprised of open prairies and rugged woodlands through Montana.

To free up funding, Tester asked the committee not to fund President Bush's Real ID plan.

Instead, he asked that an additional $50 million be invested into an account used by Customs and Border Protection to help shore up security shortcomings.

"This lack of detection capability must be met with aircraft and sensor systems capable of detecting aircraft and individuals illegally crossing the border," wrote Tester.

Tester also said Customs and Border Protection was still be short 1,500 authorized agents despite adequate funding by Congress.

He requested that no fewer than 20 percent of new customs officers and border agents who are hired from those funds be deployed to the northern border for duty.

"There's a lot of ground to cover up there, and we start by investing in the best technology and human resources possible," Tester said.

Tester asked the committee to introduce language in its report to note the recommendations.

In addition, he urged the committee to push Homeland Security to provide a timeline for deploying new officers and agents to the border.

Montana shares nearly 550 miles of international border with southern Canada, second only to Michigan.

The international boundary has received growing interest in recent months, including attention from the Canadian consulate, which told the Independent Record in January that oversecuring the border may impede commerce.

Tester has suggested a fourth 24-hour port of entry north of Havre to help address that issue, making it easier to move goods across the border at secured points.