During hearing, Tester shines national spotlight on northern border

Hearing wraps up series of meetings, tours and visit from Deputy DHS Secretary

(HAVRE, Mont.) Senator Jon Tester today wrapped up a three-day tour of Montana's northern border by shining a national spotlight on homeland security and access to the border during a Senate field hearing in Havre.

Tester questioned and took testimony from eight witnesses before a packed auditorium at Montana State University-Northern. The goal, Tester said, was "to hear from the many folks who stand watch on the border."

Tester is a member of the Senate Homeland Security committee. He organized today's hearing in response to potential terrorism threats, drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and trade concerns along the four-thousand mile border.

"The stakes are high when it comes to making our border secure," Tester said. "At the same time we need to encourage the vital economic link between the U.S. and Canada."

Today's hearing addressed several major issues including expanding hours at Montana's ports of entry and staffing concerns.

"Basic staffing needs at our ports of entry continue to go unmet," said Loren Timmerman, president of the Port of Sweetgrass chapter of the National Treasury Employees Union. The union represents more than 100 U.S. Customs and Border Protection "CBP" inspectors in Montana.

"CBP is losing these employees faster than they can hire replacements," Timmerman said.

Tester also heard testimony about the use of technology along the northern border, including low-cost radar to track low-flying aircraft and fiberoptic sensors to detect illegal ground crossing.

Tester heard from the heads of two Montana small businesses that develop new border security technology. Both Alexander Philp, president of Missoula's GCS Research, and Kris Merkel, president the Bozeman-based S2 Corporation, urged the federal government to expand its use of high-tech security.

Tester agrees and says the U.S Border Patrol should also not to lose sight of low-tech security.

 "We need to build relationships with people on the border – local governments, county governments, the BIA, but especially the farmers and ranchers who know the area like the back of their hand."

Other witnesses who testified today included:

  • Brenna Neinast, Chief oft the U.S. Border Patrol's Havre Sector
  • Dan McGowan, Administrator of Montana's Disaster and Emergency Services
  • Robert DesRossier, Director of Disaster and Emergency Services for the Blackfeet Nation
  • Michelle James, Director of Field Operations for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol
  • Donna Matoon, Sherriff of Toole County, Mont.

Tester on Monday launched his three-day journey across the northern border with a town hall meeting in Plentywood.

He then met with DHS Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider to visit the U.S. Border Patrol Station in Scobey and the Port of Scobey. Tester, who invited Schneider to Montana several months ago, said the Deputy Secretary was surprised by the vast expanse of Montana's northern tier.