Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Jun 12 2018

DHS releases New Northern Border Strategy, Following up on Heitkamp’s Bipartisan Bill

New Strategy – Which Will Be Updated Every 5 Years – Will Help DHS, Law Enforcement Keep North Dakota Communities Strong and Safe

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a new strategic plan to tackle chronic and emerging security issues along the Northern Border. The new strategy flows from a comprehensive assessment of the Northern Border and its challenges that was required by Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation, that was signed into law in late 2016.

The strategy provides direction and focus to DHS and its partnering agencies as they work to tackle challenges such as the lack of surveillance at the border, drug trafficking, hiring and retention of Customs and Border Protection agents and officers, and port modernization to facilitate lawful trade and travel. DHS also committed to updating the strategy every 5 years.

The new strategy builds on Heitkamp’s bipartisan bill that became law in December 2016 to help assess and strengthen American security at the Northern Border and make sure North Dakota’s communities remain strong and safe. Heitkamp introduced the bill after hearing about the chronic hiring, retention and technological challenges along the Northern Border from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees in North Dakota. Heitkamp’s bill required DHS to conduct the first threat assessment of the Northern Border since 2011, which was completed in August 2017. It recommended a formal update to DHS’ 2012 Northern Border strategy to begin addressing critical gaps in border security, including improving technology, and recruiting and retaining border security personnel. Heitkamp urged DHS to quickly produce the updated strategy which was released today.

“This strategy puts DHS on a path that will make North Dakota, and our nation, stronger and safer,” Heitkamp said. “Over a year after my legislation was signed into law, we now have a strategy based on the most current threat analysis, taking into account advancements in technology and shifting threats from around the world. Canada is a strong ally of the U.S. and a critical trading partner for North Dakota farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers. We also need to make sure DHS has the resources and tools it needs to combat drug and human trafficking, terrorism, and other threats to our communities that could come from around the world through the border. When I first came to the U.S. Senate, it was clear that there was no concerted effort in Congress or the federal government to evaluate and assess needs on our Northern Border – and I’ve worked to change that. The security threats along our Southern Border deserve urgent attention, but we can’t ignore the Northern Border – and this strategy will help keep the security of every American at the forefront of the effort to keep every community strong and safe.”

The strategy outlines three main goals with underlying objectives, some of which include: 

Enhance Border Security Operations

  • Exchange timely and actionable information and intelligence on cross-border terrorism and illicit activities with federal, state, local, tribal, and international partners
  • Enhance coordination, integration, and analysis to improve domain awareness
  • Strategically deploy technology based on risk assessments and capability gaps 
  • Use public and private sector outreach to deter adversaries from exploiting the Northern Border

Facilitate and Safeguard Lawful Trade and Travel

  • Enhance cross-border collaboration to safeguard and secure transportation networks
  • Promote the utilization of Trusted Traveler and prescreening programs to enable rapid processing of travelers
  • Continuously improve cargo and trade policies, processes, and technologies to enable a fair and competitive trade environment
  • Enhance Northern Border capacity and efficiencies through infrastructure, resource, and personnel improvements

Promote Cross-border Resilience

  • Enhance cross-border emergency communications to facilitate effective response and recovery operations
  • Support and enhance cross-border response and recovery capabilities with and between federal, state, local, tribal, and Canadian partners through mutual aid agreements, cooperative planning, and multi-sectoral exercises
  • Protect and enhance the security and resilience of infrastructure through improved threat and risk awareness, vulnerability reduction, and hazard mitigation

Click here to read the full report.

In a letter to DHS last September, Heitkamp outlined six priorities she wanted to be addressed in the new strategy, all of which were included in the final strategy released by DHS. Click here to read the letter.

Today’s Northern Border Strategy comes after Heitkamp pushed for years for answers from CBP about what the agency is doing to make sure Border Patrol agents have the fully functioning communications tools they need to keep our nation’s borders secure. Her push followed multiple reports of inoperable radios and other devices along the border that security personnel need to do their jobs.

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.

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 over $1.6 billion in goods and services cross the Northern Border each day – representing the largest bilateral flow of goods and people in the world.

Heitkamp has been working to make sure sufficient attention is paid to protecting the Northern Border through meetings with border security officials in North Dakota and in Washington D.C. 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. More details about action she 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.
  • Calling attention to chronic challenges at Northern Border ports of entry. In March of last year, 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 additional 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.

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