- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2000

Nowhere does the federal government face a greater challenge to live up to the constitutional responsibility to "establish Justice" and "ensure domestic tranquility" than the Southwest border. The tidal wave of humanity crashing across the border poses a law-enforcement challenge that demands the strongest possible response by the Justice Department.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Border Patrol and the federal judiciary are being asked to do increasingly more along the border; yet, these agencies face critical shortfalls in funding in nearly every area. Instead of addressing these shortfalls, the Clinton administration's priority is to send $1.6 billion in foreign aid to Colombia to help it fight its own drug war.

The president's plan provides 15 Huey helicopters and 30 Blackhawk helicopters for Columbia. Our DEA and Border Patrol agents fly Vietnam-era helicopters, many of which are unsafe and grounded, and their request for additional aircraft was not funded by the administration.

The president's plan gives Colombia $2 million to buy night vision goggles. Yet the border patrol is woefully short on night vision goggles, pocket scopes, fiber-optic scopes and hand-held searchlights. The DEA and Border Patrol requests for additional equipment were not funded by the president.

The unmet capital needs of the INS, DEA and the judiciary represent approximately $1.8 billion. For Border Patrol agents, this means operating in cramped, substandard offices. One site designed for five people now houses 125 agents. Another site is a converted Tastee Freeze store. However, the president proposes that we send $49 million to Columbia to construct brand new buildings for their anti-drug forces.

My point is simple. Before we send $1.6 billion to Colombia so it can have more planes, goggles, radar sensors and new buildings, how about funding our own law-enforcement community so it can adequately interdict and fight drugs in the United States?

That is what I plan to do as chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel that funds federal law-enforcement because I believe our first priority should be to fully fund the drug war on the Southwest border.

Here is what I propose:

First, we should focus on expanding the centralized development of certain computer and communications technologies, such as the Automated Booking System and narrow-band communications, to maximize information sharing. Fully 20 percent of all federal law-enforcement officers are concentrated in an area running from Presidio, Texas, to the Pacific Ocean. Nowhere are the benefits of centralization more obvious than the Southwest border where overlapping operations demand better mission coordination and cooperation.

Second, existing manpower needs to be redirected to the border. Because shifting patterns of crime are not always reflected in the distribution of federal law-enforcement resources, seasoned officers and agents need to be deployed where they are needed most. Today, they are needed on the Southwest border.

Third, we need to stop shortchanging the DEA. The president's DEA budget request provides only a $4.6 million increase for enforcement operations. Paltry increases for our pre-eminent drug-fighting agency is not a proper response to the drug war. Methamphetamine use is growing rapidly, and 85 percent of it is smuggled in from Mexico. As a result, my bill will provide the DEA with increased funding for methamphetamine enforcement, training and cleanup. We also direct the DEA, INS and FBI to coordinate operations by, among other things, co-locating their Southwest border offices in the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Fourth, the single greatest deficiency continues to be the appalling inadequacy of Border Patrol facilities. Stations designed to house a few agents now serve hundreds. Detention facilities in federal courthouses and at INS processing centers are antiquated, cramped and unsafe. Our proposal upgrades existing facilities to standard while expanding capacity to meet the growing caseload.

Finally, the federal judiciary has been hit hard by a staggering number of drug offenses and illegal immigration cases. The five federal border districts now handle 26 percent of all criminal activity, much of which is drug-related. To put that in perspective, of the 89 federal judicial districts in the nation, five of them handle over 25 percent of the caseload. We provide relief to the border courts by providing resources to the five federal districts on the border.

More and more drugs are coming across the Southwest border. The Mexican cartels are replacing the Cali cartels as the drug smuggling kingpins. To be effective, our strategy must recognize the clear and present danger that exists on the Southwest border and allocate the resources that are necessary to mount a concerted and comprehensive anti-drug effort here at home.

Sen. Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary.

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