Budget: Legislators debate merits

February 05, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Representatives in Congress concerned with Imperial Valley interests disagreed Monday about the merits of President Bush's $2.13 trillion budget proposal, yet both emphasized the U.S. northern border should not receive increased attention at the expense of the southern border.

"Overall we're happy and obviously we're happy about the increase in defense spending," said Mike Harrison, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican who represents the 52nd district, which includes the Imperial Valley.

In contrast, Rep. Bob Filner, a Democrat who will run for the seat representing Imperial Valley in the next congressional election because of redrawn congressional districts, said the president's budget plan is "disastrous for Imperial County in that by moving all the money into the defense budget, he has to take away from people's programs like health, education, veterans and housing."

Both representatives said they were concerned the proposed budget's seems to emphasize the northern border.


"They put money for border security, but the problem is that most of it seems to be going to the northern border and we're going to have to fight for the resources for the southern border that we want," Filner said.

He said the southern border stations need enough Customs and Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors to ensure they can remain open 24 hours a day and need improved roads and ports of entry.

Harrison agreed the southern border still has many problems that need to be addressed, such as the influx of illegal immigrants and drug smuggling.

"Any upgrades or increased presence of Border Patrol on the northern border should not come at the expense of the southern," he said. "We would like to see the Border Patrol agents and enforcement agencies along the south have adequate resources to fight those problems."

Specifically, the president's budget would allocate $10.6 million to secure U.S. borders, a $2 million increase from last year, and calls for more than doubling the number of Border Patrol agents on America's northern border.

Specifically, the president's budget would allocate $10.6 million to secure U.S. borders, a $2 million increase from last year, and calls for more than doubling the number of Border Patrol agents on America's northern border.

The INS enforcement budget would be increased by $1.2 billion, for a total of $5.3 billion.

"The northern border has become an attractive gateway for potential terrorists," states the president's budget report. "The budget builds on 2002 initiatives for the northern border by adding enough resources to more than double the number of Border Patrol agents and inspectors and design and construct new Border Patrol and inspection facilities."

Yet a spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security said the proposed increase in agents along the northern border reflects where the agency thinks holes exist, not an emphasis on the northern over the southern border.

"The border initiative that the president is putting forward is a comprehensive plan to secure our borders and it takes a look at weaknesses in the system and fills in those holes," Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "The southern border has been beefed up considerably while the northern border has not."

In addition, INS spokeswoman Nicole Chulick said the same number of new border control agents, 285, will actually be placed on each border, but she said the immigration service was still figuring out how to divide the money between the northern and southern borders.

Currently, she said, the northern border has only 350 agents compared with 9,016 in the south.

The president's proposed increase in border security includes significant increases for the Coast Guard and Customs, which is expected to employ 800 new agents to keep unwanted goods, such as drugs, from entering the borders.

A Customs spokeswoman said officials are still determining how much of the $2.3 billion, a $619 million increase from last year, would be allocated to the northern and southern borders.

"Customs is in the process of conducting a threat assessment review of our land borders and sea ports to determine how best to allocate the new personnel, equipment and technologies," said Tasia Scolinos, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, which oversees the Customs Service.

Ensuring some of the new Customs agents are stationed in the Imperial Valley is imperative to the economic health of the area, Filner said.

"If you don't have enough, you lessen the number of gates that are open so the waiting times become very long," he said. "The wait time produces all kinds of economic problems for our region. We've got to get down the wait times by having more people and more technology. The money is there. Now it's just a question of priorities."

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