Hutchinson outlines border security

Technology applications, intelligence information analysis and greater coordination with other nations will help to protect U.S. borders and waterways as well as facilitate better commercial trade, said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary-designate for border and transportation for the Homeland Security Department.

Hutchinson, the former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, spoke to several mayors today who represent cities along the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada.

Several times during his talk at the U.S. Conference of Mayors' 71st winter meeting in Washington, D.C., he emphasized that the Homeland Security Department would balance security with commerce. Technology, he said, would help facilitate crossings and ensure better security given the limited resources along the borders, ports, and harbors.

If the Senate approves Hutchinson, he will oversee about 60 percent of the estimated 170,000 Homeland Security Department employees, or about 100,000, including those in the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and agricultural inspectors.

He said the United States needs a "layered approach to protection," explaining that the nation needs to work with other countries to share information and screen containers and visitors and before they enter the country.

That sentiment was somewhat echoed by Stephen Flynn, a homeland security expert with the Council on Foreign Relations. Flynn said that the country should look at security in a "continental context" and not just a U.S. context. That's because some critical infrastructure, such as Canadian gas pipe lines and power plants that serve U.S. cities, lie outside the border.

Luis Cabrera, minister for border affairs with the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Mexico and the United States are working together more since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to bolster security and ensure that trade isn't hindered. That's important for the six Mexican and four U.S. states that share the border, he said. Almost 80 percent of bilateral trade, he added, is made across the U.S./Mexico border, with more than 300 million documented crossings per year.

William Heffelfinger III, deputy assistant commissioner with the U.S. Customs Service, said his agency is upgrading a 15-year-old computer system over the next five years that should help integrate security with commerce. The system would be deployed to all border stations and allow for data mining.

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