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Senator Hassan Presses Top DHS Officials on Border Security at Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan discussed technology and personnel needs at the southern border. 

To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.

Additional Investment in Border Security Technology 

Senator Hassan began by calling for more deployment of advanced technology to help secure the southern border. 

“I recently visited the southern border for a third time,” said Senator Hassan. “I am concerned after that visit that DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is not more widely deploying the technologies that you are using to help secure the border in some locations. Greater deployment of integrated and autonomous cameras, radar, sensors, and additional technology to detect and deter the unauthorized aerial vehicles (UAVs) that smugglers use, would expand CBP’s [Customs and Border Protection] capabilities, address existing security gaps, and be a force multiplier.”

Senator Hassan also pointed out that while Congress has appropriated millions of federal dollars for these technologies, CBP has not spent some of these funds. 

“Thank you for the funding, that’s extremely important,” said Benjamine Huffman, CBP Acting Chief Operating Officer. “The technology provides the CBP as a whole and Border Patrol in particular the level of situational awareness that’s critical to their success and for your recognition of that, it’s important to do that.” Chief Huffman discussed how it’s working to use the funds and ways to potentially speed up the deployment of this funding.

Senator Hassan previously worked with her colleagues to pass into law the bipartisan INTERDICT Act, which has provided critical tools to CBP to help detect and intercept fentanyl and other illegal synthetic opioids.

Addressing Personnel Needs

Senator Hassan then spoke about the importance of meeting staffing needs at the border. She raised with Chief Huffman CBP’s practice of temporarily shifting border patrol agents to other locations when needed. 

“When I visited the border last month, personnel there said that while these temporary duty assignments certainly help address increased migrant flows, they are taxing for the agents, officers, and their families - and they’re not a long term solution,” Senator Hassan said. “I am also concerned that the continual, and likely increased, shifting of personnel to the southern border will have a detrimental impact on travel, trade, and security along the northern border.”

Senator Hassan asked, “How will CBP work to increase personnel at the southern border and continually and reliably meet these staffing needs?”

Chief Huffman shared that they’re working to increase personnel and capacity, including by increasing the use of remote processing and hiring more border patrol processing coordinators.  With respect to the northern border, Chief Huffman shared that they rely on their leadership at the northern border ports and sectors to balance their resources as well as they can to minimize the impact of shifting personnel.

Senator Hassan cosponsored bipartisan legislation earlier this year to require CBP to hire no less than 600 additional officers a year until the agency’s staffing needs are met.

Medical Resources for the Border 

Senator Hassan went on to discuss DHS’s plan to expand medical support at the southern border. 

“The first pillar of the DHS plan for southern border security focuses on surging additional resources to support border operations, including medical support resources,” said Senator Hassan. “The plan indicates that DHS is expanding medical support and COVID-19 mitigation protocols, and was preparing to be able to provide medical care for up to 18,000 people per day by the end of April.”

Senator Hassan then asked Maryann Tierney, Senior Coordinating Official at the Southwest Border Coordination Center, whether DHS has made that deadline, and how DHS can ensure that they have adequate medical resources if 18,000 people were apprehended tomorrow. 

“If CBP were to encounter up to 18,000 people per day, that will place enormous strain on the system,” said Ms. Tierney. “And so I think it is unclear, you know, whether the medical services that are currently in place, or they’re in the process of being in place, could flex to that level. That is almost three times the number of people that are currently encountered at the border on average.”

“One of my concerns about this planning, the discussion we’ve been having about getting ready for the eventual lifting of Title 42, is that people keep telling me ‘but we have a plan,’” Senator Hassan said. “And it isn’t clear that having the plan and actually having the resources on the ground to meet the goals of that plan are the same thing. And so I appreciate this dialogue, but what I’m going to continue to follow up with all of you on is what does that mean in operational terms for the frontline personnel who will in all likelihood be seeing a significant increase in attempted migrant crossings when Title 42 is lifted.”

Yesterday, Senator Hassan also pressed DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on how the agency will actually deliver more resources to the southern border.