Washington, D.C. – During a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing today, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) questionedHomeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson about severe staffing shortages at ports of entry, including the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Arizona; combatting the nation’s heroin epidemic at the southern border; and addressing the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied minors traveling to the United States. Senator McCain has been focused on addressing these border issues through his work on the Committee, which directly impact the State of Arizona.
Addressing Staffing Shortages at U.S. Border Ports of Entry
In December, Senator McCain introduced a bill to address the staffing crisis on the southern border by allowing the men and women serving as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and officers to earn “hardship duty pay” when assigned to highly trafficked rural areas along the border. At our ports of entry, CBP has hired less than 1,000 of the 2,000 additional officers that were funded by Congress in 2014 and remains short of the congressionally mandated staffing level of 23,775. Hardship duty pay would incentivize well-trained agents and officers to work at some of the most demanding stations and ports along our border to keep our communities safe and facilitate cross-border trade.
Combatting America’s Heroin Addiction at the Border
Senator McCain filed an amendment to the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act of 2015, legislation that is currently being debated, that would combat drug and human trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has significantly fueled America’s heroin addiction. The amendment would enhance penalties for so-called “spotters” who transmit information about the position or surveillance efforts of the U.S. Border Patrol or destroy border controls to help direct drug cartels and human traffickers as they attempt to illegally cross over the U.S.-Mexico border by increasing fines and imposing a maximum prison time of ten years.
Stopping Flow of Unaccompanied Children to the Border
Senator McCain also filed an amendment to the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act of 2015 that would address the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied children (UAC) in recent years have been apprehended as they illegally cross into the United States. The amendment would address the root of the problem, deterring future flows of unaccompanied children making the long and dangerous journey north, by requiring UAC from non-contiguous countries to be given the same treatment as those from Mexico and Canada with respect to the option of voluntarily returning to their own country. It would also reform the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to require expedited removal of all UAC that are not victims of trafficking and are stopped at the border attempting to enter the United States illegally, allowing law enforcement to return them to their home countries within days as opposed months or years. To help provide an orderly process for children who qualify for refugee status, the amendment would require the Administration to carry out in-country processing of refugee applications in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Watch Senator McCain at the Senate hearing today:
“We are terribly short of staffing at our ports of entry on our southern border. We passed legislation, which would expedite veterans being hired…but we’re still, for example, at the Nogales Mariposa Port of Entry, we’re 20 percent understaffed – well over a hundred. So you see these vacant lanes and traffic stacked up behind it simply because we don’t have the personnel…I’m of the view that we need to have some kind of incentive pay or hazardous duty pay at ports of entries that have experienced high traffic flows.” – Senator John McCain questioning Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson at Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing today.
Senator McCain: “There is an epidemic of manufactured heroin and the deaths of manufactured heroin overdoses have been described by some governors, including the Governor of New Hampshire, as a quote, ‘epidemic.’… Aren’t most of this manufactured heroin coming across through the ports of entry, rather than smuggled across the border areas?”
Secretary Johnson: “I agree that most of the heroin that is seized is seized at ports of entry on our southern border.”
Senator McCain: “Finally, on the children showing up at the border, is one of the answers… increasing our embassy and consulate capability in those three countries – El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala – so that they can go there rather than showing up at our border?
Secretary Johnson: “Yes, sir, I agree.”