Tester brings Homeland Security chief to border to hear from Montanans

Napolitano and Border Protection commissioner hear ideas from residents, law enforcement

(HELENA, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester hosted the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security in Montana this week, where they heard directly from Montanans on border security, commerce, ports of entry and the fight against illegal drugs.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin, joined Tester and Senator Max Baucus for tours of two ports of entry along the U.S.-Canada border and for meetings with local residents and law enforcement officials.

The group saw firsthand the Ports of Piegan and Sweet Grass before holding a roundtable discussion with community leaders in Sunburst and a town hall meeting in Havre.

Napolitano told local residents that she hopes to find a solution to keep the Port of Whitetail open on both sides of the border, but that the port would close if the Canadian government shuts down its side of the crossing.

“Of course, we’re not going to spend money on a port if the Canadian side isn’t going to be open,” Napolitano said.  "But this one, I think, is fixable."

Tester is collecting input from Montanans on the recent decision by the Canadian government to close its side of the Port of Whitetail to traffic from the U.S. in April of 2011.  Montanans are asked to submit their feedback to Tester’s website tester.senate.gov/Whitetail.

Before Canada’s announcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had planned to upgrade the Port of Whitetail and remove asbestos in the buildings there.  At Tester’s request, the Department temporarily halted the work in order to gather public input.

“This was a great opportunity to hear directly from a lot of folks about what’s happening on the ground,” Tester said.  “Nobody knows better how to better secure the border than the men and women on the front lines of that effort.  I’m glad Secretary Napolitano was able to hear their ideas.  Now we’ll get to work to keep bolstering border security in a way that’s careful about taxpayer dollars.”

Bersin also accompanied the group, and announced an extension of summer hours at the Port of Wild Horse.

“We are going to keep the port open with the extended hours for another 12 to 18 months, and during that period we are very open to making it into a 24-7 port,” Napolitano added.

Photos available online HERE.