Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Nov 30 2016

Heitkamp, Ayotte Bipartisan Bill to Protect Northern Border Unanimously Passes in U.S. House of Representatives, Heads to President’s Desk

Heitkamp Introduced Bill After Visiting Northern Border in ND, Meeting with Border Security Officials about Challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, today announced that their bipartisan bill to help assess and strengthen American security at the Northern Border – the longest common land border in the world – unanimously passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

Earlier this month, Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bill unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate. Their bipartisan Northern Border Security Review Act directly responds to the feedback Heitkamp and then-U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas heard in April 2015 from federal, state, county and local officials and law enforcement when she brought him to North Dakota to tour the Northern Border in Pembina. By requiring DHS to evaluate security threats and challenges at the border through a comprehensive examination of current resources and personnel levels, Heitkamp’s bill will address the concerns she and Mayorkas discussed with federal border security officials and local sheriffs about cooperation issues among law enforcement, and challenges recruiting and retaining a strong border security workforce.

“Effectively protecting our nation’s 5,500-mile long Northern Border requires accurate assessments of the threats we face so we can make sure we have the robust security force our communities need to stay safe,” said Heitkamp. “In North Dakota, the Northern Border touches so many of our communities, and after visiting the border on multiple occasions – including Portal earlier this month – and meeting with border security officials about their growing challenges on the ground, I wanted to do everything I could to make a difference. Now, Congress has passed my bipartisan bill to do just that. When this bill is signed into law, it will help our dedicated forces along the border get the support they need to address serious threats and technology gaps on the Northern Border, and meet the challenges they face in attracting and retaining good employees to work in remote border areas like Portal, and across the country.”

“We need to better understand the security challenges at our northern border so that we can take necessary actions to remedy any vulnerabilities and protect our country from current or potential criminal or terror threats. I’m pleased Congress has unanimously passed this important legislation,” said Ayotte. “New Hampshire law enforcement officials, particularly those serving Coos County, are critical to maintaining the security of our border with Canada and this legislation will support their efforts and encourage better communication and collaboration with federal officials.”

During a hearing today in the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Heitkamp spoke with Mark Morgan and Carla Provost – the chief and deputy chief of U.S. Border Patrol within U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – about how her bipartisan Northern Border Security Review Act would help address the recruitment, retention and technological concerns she has heard directly from border security agents on the Northern Border. Both Morgan and Provost agreed with Heitkamp’s call for stronger efforts to assess and strengthen security along the longest common land border in the world. Since first offering an amendment on the Northern Border to comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2013, Heitkamp has been working to secure better protections for the Northern Border through meetings with border security officials in North Dakota and in Washington, visiting the border in Pembina and Portal, raising awareness about the challenges at the border for top federal officials and agency heads, and introducing legislation.

At 5,500 miles long, including 1,500 miles between Alaska and Canada, the Northern Border has 120 border crossings, many of which are small and in rural areas.

Approximately 300,000 people and $910 million in trade cross the Northern Border every day, representing the largest bilateral flow of goods and people in the world. Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bill would require a comprehensive examination of how to strengthen American security at the Northern Border by looking into issues with:

  • Recruiting and retaining border security officials to cover the Northern Border, including at more remote areas of the border;
  • Determining tools border security officials need to effectively combat drug and human trafficking at the Northern Border;
  • Identifying technology that could expand the reach of border agents; and
  • Finding vulnerabilities in cooperation between Canadian, state, county, local, and tribal law enforcement.

Cosponsors of Heitkamp and Ayotte’s bill include Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Click here to view a summary of the bill.

The United States and Canada conducted a joint border and threat risk assessment in 2011. Subsequently, the DHS published its Northern Border Strategy in 2012. Given the constant changes along the Northern Border, it is critical that the United States update its threat assessment so it can effectively respond to today’s challenges.

The legislation follows a variety of actions Heitkamp has taken over the past two years to make sure the Northern Border receives the proper attention, including:

  • Bringing then-DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to North Dakota. When Heitkamp brought Mayorkas to Pembina’s Port of Entry and Border Patrol Facilities in April 2015, they spoke about ways to improve issues federal border security officials and local county sheriffs face in attracting and maintaining a strong border security workforce. During the visit, they also discussed ways to improve efforts to combat human and drug trafficking, as well as ways to expand the use of technology to help protect the border.
  • Making the Northern Border a priority for a U.S. Senate committee. Following Mayorkas’ visit, Heitkamp successfully called for the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, where she helps lead a subcommittee, to hold a hearing on the Northern Border. When that hearing took place, Heitkamp questioned federal border security officials about the issues she heard about firsthand in Pembina with Mayorkas. In March, Heitkamp pressed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on the need to pay closer attention to protecting the Northern Border. In June 2014, she brought U.S. Senator Tom Carper, now Ranking Member of the Committee, on a tour of the Northern Border.
  • Holding border security meetings in Minot, Portal and Grand Forks. Heitkamp visited the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Grand Forks in January 2014, and she held a discussion in June 2014 with law enforcement in Minot to discuss stressed law enforcement personnel in the border region. Earlier this month, Heitkamp visited the Portal Port of Entry where she met with CBP officers and managers about the challenges they face in helping secure the Northern Border.

###

Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov