Mr. Chair, my amendment is similar to an amendment of mine that passed the House 243-180 in the FY2017 NDAA. This amendment mirrors language that I have introduced called the SEND Act.
While the Department of Homeland Security--not the Department of Defense--is tasked with maintaining the safety of our southern border, it has long received help and assistance from the DOD and our military. One of the ways the DOD helps the border patrol is through the transfer of equipment it deems “excess” to its needs.
Under current law, the transfer of this “excess” equipment already gives preference to counterdrug, counterterrorism, and border security activities. My amendment simply takes that preference a step further, giving border security preference for a few specific pieces of equipment which are particularly useful for border security applications: unmanned surveillance vehicles including Aerostat blimps, night-vision goggles, and Humvees.
The border patrol is the first and last line of defense against those criminal gangs. In my home state of Texas, and in other border states like New Mexico and Arizona, the war against the cartels is an ongoing affair.
Cartels are involved in labor and sex slavery. Just last week in Southern Texas, border patrol agents raided a home to find 37 illegal immigrants, including three children.
These men, women and children were being held by cartel drug runners for ransom. I've been to the border countless times, Mr. Chair. I've spoken with the men and women who have sworn to protect the good folks of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico from the dangerous people who cross the southern border.
A Texas Ranger told me that they are outmanned, outgunned, out-financed and out-equipped by the drug cartels. I've heard firsthand the need these men and women have for new equipment, specifically the equipment I just listed.
In fact when I recently visited the border in April, I met with the Border Patrol in the Rio Grande sector and they informed me that in areas where they were using Aerostat surveillance blimps, crossings were way down. When asked what we could do to help the sector, the answer was clear: More Aerostat blimps.
Well, that is what we are trying to do here with this amendment, Mr. Chair. This idea isn't new.
In 2010, with our help, the excess equipment program sent 6 excess military Humvees to Texas Border Sheriffs. Often, before this transfer, the border sheriffs were forced to chase the drug cartels in Crown Victorias.
This amendment mandates that DOD give border security applicants an additional preference for the equipment listed in this amendment. I've heard from our agents down on the border and this is the equipment they need.