- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

A plan to triple the number of Border Patrol agents assigned along the 4,121-mile U.S.-Canada border in the wake of the September 11 attacks has been reached, as the government continues its buildup against further terrorist attacks.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner, who oversees the Border Patrol, said 1,000 agents are now stationed along the world’s longest undefended international border, compared with about 300 before the terrorist strikes that killed almost 3,000 people.

“This is critical to the success of our priority mission of preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from crossing our borders,” Mr. Bonner said. “The increased staffing of these Border Patrol agents will augment our ability to prevent penetration of our borders by potential terrorists.

“I’m proud to have the men and women of the Border Patrol as part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection; their expertise and abilities guarantees a safer and more secure border.”

Border Patrol spokeswoman Gloria Chavez said the agents, including more than 300 who recently were assigned, have been “strategically and permanently” located in the eight Border Patrol sectors along the U.S.-Canada border, responsible for patrolling the vast and often remote areas of land and water between 150 ports of entry.

In addition, she said, increased coordination efforts between Border Patrol agents and Royal Canadian Mounted Police along the international boundary have helped increase border security for both the countries.

“With the increase of these additional agents along the northern border, the Border Patrol will maintain a more comprehensive enforcement posture in our efforts to sustain border security and combat terrorism,” said Border Patrol Chief Gus De La Vina.

Rep. George Nethercutt, a Washington Republican who has lobbied vigorously for an increase in the number of agents assigned along the northern border, called the additional manpower “absolutely critical to both the security of Washington state and the country.

“Our Border Patrol agents have been working exceptionally long hours to keep us safe, and they have done a fantastic job with the resources they have,” said Mr. Nethercutt, co-chairman of the Northern Border Caucus. “The longest demilitarized border in the world is attractive to drug smugglers and others who may wish America ill.

“This security increase sends a clear message that Congress is serious about eliminating and deterring such activity.”

The Washington Times reported last month that more than 45 million trucks and cars, and 80 million people cross each year from Canada into the United States. But that huge influx was greeted by a thinly stretched line of Border Patrol agents stationed between the ports of entry.

By comparison, 9,539 Border Patrol agents are assigned along the 1,941-mile U.S.-Mexican border, who have made more than 14 million arrests since 1993. Border patrol agents along the Canadian border, part of an enforcement strategy that historically has been aimed at facilitating the free flow of trade, have made fewer than 140,000 arrests during that period.

A two-month investigation found that protecting the northern border had not been a priority for the White House or Congress until the September 11 attacks. But, it said, significant enhancements have since been put into place, including manpower increases and numerous technology upgrades sought by Mr. Bonner.

The Border Patrol is the mobile uniformed law-enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security and has the primary responsibility of patrolling 6,000 miles of Mexican and Canadian international land borders.

But agents assigned along the Canadian border faced a much different challenge than their southern counterparts, lacking manpower and equipment to effectively patrol the vast expanses of the northern boundary.

Mr. Bonner, former head of the U.S. Customs Service, first sought increases for the Border Patrol along the country’s northern boundary in July, promising a front-line role for the agency as part of the then newly organized CBP.

“The Border Patrol is an essential part of Customs and Border Protection and provides security against intrusions between our nation’s official crossing points,” he said, saying the proposed increase in manpower is “an important step in increasing security along our northern border and is necessary given the continuing threat of terrorism.”

Funding for the additional positions was provided in the fiscal 2003 budget passed by Congress. The Border Patrol also has deployed additional aircraft and boats to provide coverage across the entire northern border, and has had significant upgrades in technology and detection equipment.

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