At Homeland Security Hearing, Tester Slams Administration Spending on Border Wall at Expense of Domestic Security

Senator presses Acting Homeland Security Chief on plans to secure the border without compromising cyber, election, and domestic terrorism priorities

(U.S. Senate)-U.S. Senator Jon Tester today led a Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) budget priorities, where he pushed back on the Department’s request for $5 billion to build 200 miles of border wall at the expense of the agency’s other law enforcement missions. DHS’s 2020 budget request would increase wall spending at the expense of important priorities like cybersecurity, election security, first responders, and counterterrorism programs.

“We can’t lose sight of the fact that the Department of Homeland Security is made up of 14 major components – all with the mission to protect the country from land, air, sea, and cyberspace threats,” said Tester, the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. “But under this Administration, an expensive taxpayer-funded wall and immigration processes dominate the conversation and resources. Cybersecurity, for instance, is a growing threat and the new battleground for many nations that want to do us harm, domestic terrorism arrests are on the rise, terrorists continue to find new ways to target aviation, strategic requirements in the arctic require additional Coast Guard resources, and communities need to be more resilient through investments in mitigation.”

Tester also criticized the Administration’s plan to pull $3.6 billion from the Department of Defense’s military construction budget in order to build 100 additional miles of wall, saying: “This is part of the President’s end run around the legislative process.”

And he questioned why there has been no comprehensive study to compare the utility of a physical wall to a less expensive technological barrier: “Technology’s come a long way over the last decade. I met with technology companies that believe they can do a much better job than a physical barrier, and the technology can change as per how the threat changes to our border at a much cheaper price… literally pennies on the dollar, and I believe that a comprehensive and independent study of that needs to be completed before we spend $25 billion dollars on a physical barrier.”

Tester raised concerns that DHS’s fiscal year 2020 budget request would increase funding for border security and immigration enforcement by 20 percent while cutting funds for the rest of the Department by 8 percent, creating an imbalance in which the request for the border wall alone represents 10 percent of the Department’s total budget. Tester has repeatedly said that the wall will not address the complexity of the humanitarian crisis occurring on the border today.

At the hearing, Tester also thanked Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan for the quick response from Customs and Border Protection to his push to cut through red tape and ensure the uninterrupted import of hemp seeds for American growers this planting season as intended by the recent Farm Bill.

Tester recently met with 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. Tester also urged him ensure continued 24 hours of operation at ports of entry at the northern border.

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.

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, including more than $600 million worth of investments in border technology.