‘Sequestration’ would weaken borders, lawmaker warns

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More than 8,500 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement personnel face termination in January under the Obama administration’s automatic spending cuts that take effect next year in a bid to attack the spiraling fiscal deficit.

The job losses, in the wake of massive efforts by the U.S. Border Patrol to significantly beef up security along the U.S.-Mexico border, would be the result of a “sequestration” in the federal budget, automatic spending cuts of 9.4 percent in 2013 for discretionary defense appropriations and 8.2 percent in 2013 for discretionary nondefense spending.

Rep. Norman D. Dicks, Washington Democrat, noted in an Oct. 9 “dear colleague” letter that if Congress and the president fail to reach agreement on a deficit-reduction plan, required budget cuts at the Department of Homeland Security would roll back what he called “significant progress” in securing the nation’s borders.

In the letter, Mr. Dicks said the cuts will increase wait times at land ports of entry and airports, hurt aviation and maritime safety and security, leave critical infrastructure vulnerable to attacks, hamper disaster-response times, and eliminate cybersecurity infrastructure that has been developed in recent years.

Mr. Dicks warned that cuts in the Border Patrol could affect security along the southwestern border, where drug-related violence has become increasingly commonplace since Mexican drug cartels began to fight each other for control of lucrative smuggling routes into the U.S.

In January, the Mexican government reported that 47,515 people had been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon began a military assault on criminal cartels soon after taking office in late 2006. The numbers included an 11 percent rise in drug-related killings in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011.

Several Border Patrol and ICE agents also have been killed in the line of duty in violent incidents involving Mexican drug smugglers.

Mr. Dick’s spokesman, George Behan, said the congressman has been concerned that elected officials and the public have focused on proposed defense spending cuts and not on other required reductions.

He said the letter was an effort by Mr. Dicks to examine the impact of sequestration on a wide range of federal programs and to ensure that members of Congress and their staffs are prepared to “move ahead” after the election to address the budget crisis.

“We’ve got to renegotiate this,” Mr. Behan said, adding that “the economy will suffer” if that doesn’t happen.

The Sequestration Transparency Act directed the Office of Management and Budget to report on how the administration interpreted the law related to implementing cuts. On Sept. 14, OMB submitted its report estimating percentage cuts for defense and nondefense appropriations, noting that they “would have a devastating impact on important defense and nondefense programs.”

Although the cuts were intended to be unacceptable to Republicans and Democrats, efforts at a bipartisan debt-reduction plan failed.

The White House has called sequestration a “blunt and indiscriminate instrument,” adding that it is “not the responsible way” to achieve deficit reduction.

However, Janice Kephart, a former counsel to the 9/11 Commission, said the White House wants a sequestration because the proposed cuts would “enhance and underscore” an open-border policy that President Obama favors but won’t back publicly.

“Border agents are already operating in the wake of failed southwest border security policies that have left both civilians and U.S. immigration agents dead on both sides of the border and placed hundreds of guns in drug lords’ hands in and out of the United States,” said Ms. Kephart, a nationally recognized border-security authority who now serves as director of national security policy at the Center for Immigration Studies.

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