News Releases

Senator Murray Works to Reduce Traffic and Increase Safety at the Northern Border

May 17 2001

Introduces Measure to Increase Border Patrol and Inspection Staff at the Northern Border

(Washington, D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) used a Senate hearing today to urge the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to increase protection and staff at the Northern Border. In her statement before the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations Committee (CJSJ), Murray noted that border staff levels have not kept pace with growing commercial traffic and increased threats.

"I am very concerned about the lack of commitment the INS had in recent years to protecting the Northern Border," Murray told Acting INS Commissioner Kevin Rooney. "The level of staff for the Border Patrol and inspections have not grown at the Northern Border, but the threats of drug trafficking and terrorist attack have grown substantially."

To ensure the Northern Border gets the agents it needs, Murray submitted a request to the CJSJ Committee, which would require that at least 25 percent of new Border Patrol agents and inspection staff be assigned to the Northern Border. Under current budget plans, the INS will hire an additional 570 Border Patrol agents in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. Murray's request would ensure that at least 142 of those new agents and transferred agents are assigned to the Northern Border. The request is currently being considered for inclusion into the CJSJ bill.

Murray's request would overturn a long-standing INS policy that calls for securing the Southern Border before securing the Northern Border. That strategy is outlined in the INS's "Border Patrol Strategic Plan 1994 and Beyond."

"It is obvious that the proposed strategy of achieving control of the Southwest Border before turning attention to the Northern Border is unrealistic and short-sighted," Murray said. "The Border Patrol and inspection staff need to develop a unified strategy that focuses the limited resources on as many areas of activity as possible."

Needs are Growing -- Staff is Not

Murray noted the growing needs and inadequate staffing at the Northern Border. Commercial traffic across the Northern Border has increased by more than 30 percent over the past decade. Drug trafficking and other criminal activities have also increased dramatically. Last year, a report by the Department of Justice Inspector General found that border staffing varied widely.

• Southern Border: 8,000 agents for 2,000 miles of border. About four agents per mile.

• Northern Border: 300 Border Patrol agents for 4,000 miles of border. About one agent for every 13 miles. Northern Border agents are 14 times more likely to encounter aliens involved with smuggling weapons and nine times more likely to encounter aliens involved in smuggling drugs than agents along the Southwest Border.

"The December 1999 arrest of Ahmed Ressam, who was trying to cross into the state of Washington from Canada with 100 pounds of bomb making supplies, is just one frightening example of our security concerns at the Northern Border. It is clear that criminal enterprises see the Northern Border as easy access to the United States, when compared to the iron fence they meet when they try to enter the U.S. through Mexico," Murray said.

The Northern Border also lacks the inspection staff to handle the increased traffic. As a result, traffic is often lined up for miles at many Washington state/Canadian border crossings.

Senator Murray's complete statement follows:

Mr. Chairman, thank you. Mr. Rooney, I appreciate you coming before this committee. I am very concerned about the lack of commitment the INS has had in recent years to protecting the Northern Border. The level of staff for Border Patrol and Inspections have not grown at the Northern Border despite large increases in your budget, but the threats of drug trafficking and terrorist attack have grown substantially.

Several developments over the last decade have made security at the Northern Border a major concern. Commercial traffic moving across the Northern Border has increased by more than 30% over the last decade. Incidents of drug trafficking have increased three-fold during that same period. Many of the world's terrorist groups have established themselves in Canada, seeking safe haven, setting up operational bases and attempting to gain access to the U.S. The arrest of Ahmed Ressam in December of 1999, who was trying to cross into the state of Washington from Canada with 100 pounds of bomb making supplies, is one frightening example of our security concerns at the Northern Border.

It is clear that criminal enterprises see the Northern Border as easy access to the United States, when compared to the iron fence they meet when they try to enter the U.S. through Mexico. An Inspector General report published last year underscores my point. The report noted that there are only about 300 Border Patrol Agents assigned to patrol the entire 4,000 miles of border between the two countries. That is about one agent for every thirteen miles of border. In comparison, the Southwest Border is 2,000 miles and has 8,000 agents. Four agents for every mile. It found that Northern Border agents were fourteen times more likely to encounter aliens involved with smuggling weapons, and they were nine times more likely to encounter aliens involved with smuggling drugs when compared to agents along the Southwest Border.

Many other studies have shown that inspection staff at the Northern Border is also inadequate to address its needs. In fact, in the state of Washington, traffic is often stacked up for miles at many of our Washington state/Canadian border crossings, and this traffic has gotten progressively worse. They simply lack the inspection staff to handle the traffic.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 authorized 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents. To date, only 3,860 positions have been funded. I am pleased that the Administration's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2002 would add 570 additional Border Patrol agents in both 2002 and 2003, fully funding the 5,000 positions. However, this increase will not allow the Border Patrol to achieve the level of control outlined in your own strategic plan. This plan outlines achieving control of the Southwest Border before dealing with problems on the Northern Border. Considering this focus on the Southwest Border, it would take 161 years before Northern Border the INS turned to the concerns of the Northern Border.

It is obvious that the proposed strategy of achieving control of the Southwest Border before turning attention to the Northern Border is unrealistic and short-sighted. The Border Patrol and inspection staff need to develop a unified strategy that focuses the limited resources on as many areas of activity as possible. This strategy must be flexible enough to quickly adapt to the inevitable shifts in such activity. It does little good to maintain control over small stretches of border when the rest of the border is overwhelmed.

It is clear that if we are to meet the threats that exist at the Northern Border, a substantial proportion of new Border Patrol agents and Inspection staff must be deployed at the Northern Border. I have submitted a request to this committee requiring that at least 25 percent of new Border Patrol agents be assigned to the northern border.