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Hunter defense funds include Valley

May 03, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

The House Armed Services Committee has finished work on a $383 billion defense spending bill that would include funding for anti-drug smuggling efforts along the border from San Diego to Imperial County.

Congressman Duncan Hunter, who represents the Imperial Valley, announced Thursday the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2003 was approved by the committee.

It now must go before the full House before moving on to the Senate.

The defense package would set aside $7.3 billion for programs aimed at combating terrorism, including counter-terrorism, force protection, counter-intelligence and defense against weapons of mass destruction.

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"This legislation provides our men and women fighting the war on terrorism the resources they need to continue protecting our freedom," Hunter states in a press release.

"The recent, aggressive deployment of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan has put a great strain on already aged equipment, consumed shallow reserves of ammunition and strained our small forces structure," he further states. "This legislation is the next step in replenishing those areas."

Also included in the bill is some $6.7 million for continuing construction on the Southwest Border Fence Project aimed at building fences to deter drug smuggling along the U.S. border, including San Diego and Imperial counties.

Michael Harrison, spokesman for Hunter in Washington, D.C., said having a strong border fence has been a pivotal part of the effort to try to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.

He added since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the border fences have become even more critical as a form of national defense.

Harrison said as a result of the terrorist attacks there has to be a focus on the borders as areas where terrorists could attempt to bring biological weapons into the country.

In the Imperial Valley there is a proposal to extend the border fence west along the All-American Canal as a way to both prevent the movement of drugs in that area and prevent the death of undocumented immigrants who attempt to swim across the canal.

Harrison said a portion of the $6.7 million could go toward the fence extension proposal. However, the project is under review by U.S Immigration and Naturalization officials, and the project may not move forward in the next year.

Under review is where specifically along the canal should such a fence be placed. One concern, Harrison said, is making sure U.S. Border Patrol agents have room to maneuver their patrol units along the canal.

Harrison said if the project does not move forward in the next fiscal year, there likely will be funding set aside for it in future bills.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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