New Acting Homeland Security Chief Talks Border Security With Tester

Senator presses Kevin McAleenan on plans to secure the border, handle humanitarian situation, keep northern border Ports of Entry open

(U.S. Senate)-U.S. Senator Jon Tester this week met with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan following his appointment to the position after the departure of former Secretary Kirstjen Nielson. Tester pressed the Acting Secretary on how the Administration plans to secure the southern border and provide targeted humanitarian assistance in the face of a growing migrant crisis, as well as urged him to reverse the decision to cut the hours of operation at ports of entry at the northern border.

“We’ve got an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation-one I saw firsthand-and a moral and policy failure from the Trump Administration at our southern border,” said Tester, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. “I think that’s no secret to Acting Secretary McAleenan, who is stepping in to temporarily lead a department that needs to address these issues quickly, effectively, and humanely, as well as address the pressing issue of port hours reductions at our northern border. I’ll be holding his feet to the fire to ensure he does just that, rather than capitulate like his predecessors to the cruel, wasteful, and ineffective policies President Trump continues to push against the wishes of Republicans and Democrats alike.”

Tester recently visited the southern border to get a look at the increasingly desperate situation there firsthand. He met with Customs and Border Protection law enforcement officials, land owners, and agriculture producers to discuss the challenges they face and determine what resources are needed to secure the border in a smart, effective, and cost-efficient way.

Tester pressed McAleenan on the status of funds Congress has appropriated for humanitarian assistance designed to prevent migration to the U.S. from occurring, and questioned why the Trump Administration is taking $1 billion from Department of Defense counterdrug funding to build an ineffective wall when that money could be used to handle the humanitarian crisis.

Tester has also pushed back hard on U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s recent proposal to cut hours of operation at four of Montana’s 16 ports of entry, limiting trade and travel across the northern border, a proposal Tester called “disappointing” and noted that its consequences would disproportionately affect rural America.

On Tester’s recent visit to the southern border, he:

  • Viewed existing portions of the border barrier and fencing structures.
  • Toured the Rio Grande River by boat to view the terrain Border Patrol agents must traverse in order to apprehend people crossing the border.
  • Heard feedback from landowners on the President’s proposed border wall, which would run through or near their property.
  • Toured a family farm along the Rio Grande River that would be bisected by President Trump’s proposed border wall, locking the farmer out of 500 acres of his own property.
  • Visited the Hidalgo Port of Entry to see how vehicles are inspected and passengers display identifying documents as they enter the U.S.
  • Visited the Pharr International Bridge Point of Entry to observe the inspection of commercial trucks and cargo containers to ensure that agricultural goods are scanned and processed for safe consumption and pose no threat to domestic producers and consumers.
  • Visited the nation’s largest immigration processing center where unaccompanied children and families are temporarily housed after illegally crossing the border to seek asylum.

As Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Tester is the top Senate Democrat responsible for funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-the primary agency responsible for border security. Tester will use his recent experience at the border to help craft a new DHS budget for FY2020 in the coming months.

In January, Tester was appointed to the bipartisan, bicameral Conference Committee tasked with striking a budget deal to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. The final funding legislation closely mirrored the Senate DHS Appropriations bill Tester crafted last year, providing almost $15 billion for Customs and Border Protection, over $600 million worth of investments in border technology, and more than $1.3 billion to construct barriers at the border.