PORTLAND, Maine Previewing the third major plank in next week’s State of the Union address, President Bush yesterday said he will ask Congress to spend nearly $11 billion next year to secure America’s borders against terrorist attacks by land, air or sea.
The package includes billions to enhance patrols along 95,000 miles of coastline, hire hundreds more agents to secure 6,000 miles of land border, improve interagency communication and track the more than 300 million noncitizen visitors who come to America each year.
“We’re analyzing every aspect of the border and making sure that the effort is seamless, the communication is real, that the enforcement is strong,” the president told several hundred supporters and Coast Guard members packed into a portside college gymnasium.
Under the $10.7 billion border-security proposal, the federal government would spend $5.3 billion for increased border enforcement, $2.9 billion for an expanded Coast Guard role and $2.3 billion for improvements to the U.S. Customs Service. The overall budget for border security in fiscal year 2003, which begins Oct. 1, would increase by about 25 percent over this year’s budget.
Included in the proposal is an extra $1.2 billion to double the number of border patrol agents for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who would focus “particularly on the northern border” with Canada a 4,000-mile stretch sometimes referred to as the longest undefended border in the world.
Mr. Bush said the INS, which would receive a 29 percent funding increase, must focus on the entry and exit of visitors to ensure the safety of Americans.
“The INS estimates that 40 percent of the people who are here illegally have overstayed their visas,” Mr. Bush said. “[They] came because of the generosity of America, were given a period of time in which they could stay, and then they didn’t leave.
“One of the things we want to make sure of is we find the 40 percent to make sure they’re not part of some al Qaeda network that wants to hit the United States,” the president said to cheers from the crowd, which included about 80 Coast Guardsmen.
One of the 19 hijackers that crashed jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon entered the United States on a student visa one of 500,000 issued each year. He was to study English in Oakland, Calif., but never showed up for class.
Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers came to America with tourist visas. Three had business visas.
Under the president’s proposal, the INS would install “integrated information systems” to speed the flow of enforcement data between border security agencies and implement a new “entry-exit system” to track the arrival and departure of non-U.S. citizens. The system would “dramatically improve our ability to deny access to those individuals who should not enter the United States, while speeding the entry of routine, legitimate traffic,” the White House said.
The Coast Guard, which saw its task of securing ports grow from about 2 percent of its mission before the September 11 attacks to 60 percent currently, would receive an additional $282 million under the plan an 11 percent increase. The additional money would be used to boost intelligence, surveillence and reconnaissance of all vessels “well beyond our traditional maritime borders,” the White House said.
The money, which Mr. Bush said amounts to “the largest increase in spending for the Coast Guard in our nation’s history,” would also be spent to provide “point defenses” for high-risk vessels and coastal facilities, including nuclear power plants and oil refineries.
The border-security proposal also would provide an additional $619 million for the U.S. Customs Service a 36 percent increase to be used to hire about 800 new inspectors and agents for borders and seaports. A portion of the money also would be used to buy technologically advanced equipment to reduce time-consuming searches.
While the Bush administration intends to tighten border security, Mr. Bush said commerce cannot be interrupted.
“It is so important to work with our friends to the north, Canada, and our friend to the south, Mexico, on border initatives that, one, doesn’t tie up commerce but, on the other hand, prevents illegal drugs from flowing across our borders,” he said.
Canada and the United States, which do $1.3 billion in trade daily, have been working hard to improve border security since the September 11 attacks. While 9,000 agents and 1,300 immigration inspectors guard the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border, just 334 agents and 498 INS inspectors work the twice-as-long Canadian border.
But that was before September 11. Since then, security has been dramatically tightened, causing lengthy backups at border crossings and devastating some border towns that relied on business from foreigners.
The border-security proposal dubbed “Smart Borders for the 21st Century” is the third major plank of the president’s fiscal 2003 budget he will discuss in Tuesday’s State of the Union address. On Wednesday, Mr. Bush said he would propose a $48 billion increase in military spending, and he revealed Thursday a $37.7 billion “homeland security” package.
In addition to the $11 billion for better border enforcement, the entire package includes $6 billion for bioterrorism prevention, $5 billion for aviation security, $3.5 billion to train and equip local police, fire and emergency personnel and $1 billion for improvements to intelligence systems.