May 16 2018
Heitkamp Secures Commitment from DHS Secretary to Quickly Release Updated Northern Border Strategy Prompted by Her Bill that Became Law
At Senate Hearing, Senator Also Urged Secretary Nielsen to Honor Her Previous Commitment to Visit ND to See Northern Border Challenges Firsthand
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp pushed U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on the status of the agency’s overdue update to its Northern Border Strategy – mandated by Heitkamp’s bill that became law – and secured a commitment from Secretary Nielsen that DHS would quickly release the update.
Also at the hearing, Heitkamp reiterated her request for Secretary Nielsen to visit North Dakota to see firsthand the challenges faced at the Northern Border firsthand.
Heitkamp’s Northern Border Security Review Act, signed into law in 2016, mandated a new analysis of threats along the 5,500-mile long Northern Border. After conducting the analysis and briefing Heitkamp on its findings, DHS announced plans to develop an updated strategy and release it within 180 days, but the agency did not meet its deadline. In response to Heitkamp’s inquiry on the status of the report, Secretary Nielsen replied, “It should be out this week.”
“We can’t lose sight of the real challenges and threats we face along our Northern Border,” Heitkamp said. “After my bill to secure the Northern Border was signed into law in 2016, DHS embarked on an important process to develop an updated strategy to improve security along the Northern Border, and I look forward to reviewing the updated strategy now that DHS has committed to releasing it soon. I also reiterated my invitation for Secretary Nielsen to travel to North Dakota to see firsthand the challenges we face at the Northern Border. I was encouraged by her response that she looks forward to a visit, and hope she finds time to visit our ports and meet directly with the men and women who do such important work in staffing the border every day.”
Since coming to the U.S. Senate in 2013, Heitkamp has been fighting to make sure sufficient attention is paid to protecting 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. The world’s longest common-law border, the Northern Border has 120 border crossings, many of which are small and in rural areas. According to DHS, approximately 400,000 people and $2 billion in goods and services cross the Northern Border each day – representing the largest bilateral flow of goods and people in the world.
At the hearing Wednesday, Heitkamp questioned Nielsen and stressed the importance of DHS improving its employee retention efforts. Heitkamp has consistently been working to bring attention to federal employees and personnel challenges along the Northern Border. In October 2017, Heitkamp’s bipartisan bill, the CBP Hiring and Retention Act, passed in committee with the intent of alleviating chronic challenges Customs and Border Protection face in hiring and retaining a qualified workforce. During a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Hearing in March 2017, Heitkamp stressed the importance of improving the recruitment and retention of qualified employees at the ports of entry to key union U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.
A key piece of Heitkamp’s Strong & Safe Communities Initiative, Heitkamp’s Northern Border Security Review Act specifically addresses the concerns and challenges she and then-DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas heard about in April 2015 from federal, state, county, and local officials and law enforcement while visiting Pembina when she brought Mayorkas to North Dakota. Heitkamp heard similar feedback during other meetings she held in North Dakota and at a Senate hearing she pushed for on the issue. Heitkamp’s bill passed unanimously in both the Senate and House.
More details about action Heitkamp has taken to make sure the Northern Border receives the proper attention include:
- 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 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 a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the Northern Border during which she questioned federal border security officials about the issues she heard about firsthand in Pembina with Mayorkas. In March 2016, Heitkamp pressed then-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, then-Chairman of the Committee, on a tour of the Northern Border. Heitkamp also spoke with the chief and deputy chief of U.S. Border Patrol about the need for her bill. Both leaders agreed with Heitkamp’s call for stronger efforts to assess and strengthen security along the Northern Border.
- Reducing drug crime and flow at the border. In August 2014, Heitkamp joined White House Drug Czar Michael Botticelli to unveil a new national strategy to fight drug crimes in the Bakken and at the Northern Border that she specifically pushed for.
- Calling attention to chronic challenges at Northern Border ports of entry. In March, Heitkamp questioned key U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) union officials about actions that could be taken to help effectively tackle consistent challenges faced by CBP officers at the Northern Border’s 120 ports of entry. Currently, the CBP’s Office of Field Operations needs an additional 1,000 officers to adequately secure the nation’s ports of entry, which hundreds of millions of travelers crossed last year – more than ever before – and where international travel is expected to increase exponentially.
- 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. Last November, 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.