Port Huron Times-Herald: Peters bill targets border personnel shortage — even if it hasn't reached crossings like Port Huron
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters is spearheading another piece of legislation affecting border crossings — only this time, he said, it may be more proactive for Port Huron than other ports of entry across the country.
The bi-partisan bill, co-sponsored by three other senators, proposes increasing the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection field officers and support staff to incrementally correct a reported shortage of personnel of nearly 4,000.
According to its original release, Peters’ camp is citing a Homeland Security announcement that authorized CBP officers, “possibly exceeding 2,000,” to be voluntarily reassigned to areas across the nation’s southwestern border. The Securing America’s Ports of Entry Act of 2019, bill 1004 would require CBP hire no less than 600 additional officers each year until the agency’s staffing needs are meant.
Peters, a ranking member on the Senate’s Homeland Security and governmental affairs committee, has reiterated his concerns related to staffing shortages amid the ongoing southern border crisis when discussing his motivation for backing the measure since it was first introduced earlier this month.
But in an interview on Wednesday, the Michigan Democrat admitted it may not have that big of an impact on border crossings in Michigan, including Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge — at least, not yet.
“I think it’s too early to see where that impact will be,” Peters said.
There are about 1,100 CBP officers assigned to Michigan out of the Detroit field office. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Kris Grogan said per policy, they don’t break down personnel numbers down to the port level.
However, he said staffing levels for the state have “remained consistent over the past five years.”
According to the transcript from a press call Tuesday, higher-level CBP officials are sharing concerns over the need to redirect officers to the southern border in what Randy Howe, executive director of the office of field operations, called “unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis.”
Howe told media his office had “redirected and surged 545 frontline officers” from southwest border ports of entry to assist border patrol agents who “process and care for record numbers of migrants.”
“To address the Border Patrol’s urgent need, we are soliciting CBP officer volunteers from our CBP airport operations and our northern border to continue to support the southwest border …” he said.
It was unclear whether any volunteers were from Michigan’s borders.
But Peters added bill 1004 could also have a preventative effect — helping to maintain his state’s staffing levels. And keeping up those levels, he said, is important.
“One thing we know about ports of entry is they have a two-fold objective,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s to keep us safe and our borders secure. … And the second is to move cargo and trade efficiently, and that’s critically important to Michigan.”
Peters’ latest ports of entry bill follows another he also co-authored at the end of 2018.
That bill, passed as the U.S. Ports of Entry Threat and Operational Review Act, requires the secretary of Homeland Security to submit analyses related to potential threats and method used to exploit security vulnerabilities. It also evaluates needs, including personnel.
Peters said he understood the resulting report of that effort could yield the discovery of an even greater need for personnel than his latest bill requires.
“We expect to have that report late summer or early fall,” he said. “If it identifies the shortfall of personnel, this bill helps. … They actually work together quite nicely. They’re meant to be complementary. The one thing we know is there’s shortfalls.”
Bill 1004 was referred to the Senate’s committee on Homeland Security and government affairs, where it remains.
By: Jackie Smith
Source: Port Huron Times-Herald
Next Article Previous Article