Better border security needed, Turner says

Democratic Report: Transforming the Southern Border

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A top Democratic lawmaker criticized the Bush administration's approach to securing the border along Mexico and released a report calling for better planning, more personnel and investment and greater use of modern technologies.

In a conference call today with reporters, Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), the ranking member on the House Select Homeland Security Committee, said the southern border is porous and the infrastructure at the ports of entry inadequate for dealing with the growing trade and commerce.

Turner said his staff, which has been engaged in an extensive investigation during the past six months, found insufficient staffing, a lack of intelligence sharing with border officials, inadequate detention facilities and failure to develop a long-term border security strategy.

Turner wants better technologies along the border for around-the-clock monitoring. He cited motion-detection equipment, surveillance cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles, all of which are currently being used in some capacity.

U.S. Border Patrol officials are also planning to upgrade their Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS) program, which could cost nearly $2 billion, that incorporates many different types of detection technologies and communication equipment. The initiative would address gaps faced by border patrol agents, such as insufficient electronic border coverage; aging or inadequate equipment; limited capability of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive detectors; and sensors unable to distinguish between animals and humans.

Turner's report recommends spending $49 million on radiation-detection monitors and $200 million for remote video surveillance along the border.

That's a drop in the bucket considering what the federal government spends across departments and agencies on homeland security, Turner said. "These are investments we cannot afford not to make because the consequences and loss of life and economic damage that flow from another [Sept. 11, 2001] type of attack far exceed the investments that we're talking about making here," he said.

Turner, who plans to introduce a bill next week incorporating many of the report's recommendations, said he wants to develop a comprehensive border strategy, create a $1 billion infrastructure investment fund, double law enforcement personnel at the borders, make all intelligence databases interoperable, and better support the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.

Turner said he spoke with Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who chairs the Homeland Security Select Committee, yesterday and handed him a copy of the report. Both Democratic and Republican staffs had traveled together on many of the investigative trips, Turner said.

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