Slotkin introduces bipartisan bill to enhance smart border security

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), a member of the Homeland Security Committee, introduced a bipartisan bill on Sept. 10, 2020, to enhance smart and effective means to secure our Northern and Southern borders through new and emerging technologies. Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), and Van Taylor (R-TX), representing both northern and southern border states, are original cosponsors of the bill.

While the administration has yet to take full advantage of emerging technologies to maintain security at our borders, Slotkin’s Integrating New Technologies to Empower Law Enforcement (INTEL) at Our Borders Act requires the Department of Homeland Security to create a comprehensive strategy to integrate those technologies as part of our nation’s border security strategy.

“Border security shouldn’t be driven by politics, it should be treated as an objective, national security issue,” Slotkin said. “My bipartisan legislation does exactly that, by requiring the administration to create a strategy for integrating smart, new technologies in its approach to border security. Emerging technologies present an important opportunity to help secure our border smartly, effectively, and humanely, and we should use them to the fullest extent possible. In so doing, we’ll also help relieve the strain on understaffed personnel, an issue I heard about directly from border patrol officers during trips to both the Northern and Southern borders. I’m thankful to have the National Border Patrol Council’s support on this bill, an important reminder that even in deeply politicized times, it’s possible to find common ground when it comes to national security.”

“As a national security professional by training, I have spent my career protecting the homeland,” Slotkin added. “We do not need to choose between maintaining security at our borders and living in accordance with our values as a country. This is a false choice –– we can and must do both.”

The National Border Patrol Council, a union representing border personnel, and the Bipartisan Policy Center offered strong endorsements of Slotkin’s bill.

“Though our mission is critical it is not without its challenges,” said Hector Garza Vice President, National Border Patrol Council, in a letter endorsing Slotkin’s legislation. “The Southern border alone is nearly 2,000 miles much of which is rugged and hostile terrain, staffing shortages and manpower issues have stretched our Border Patrol agents thin, and gaps in technological capabilities limit the security potential of our borders. Proper implementation of emerging technology to the day-to-day operations of the Border Patrol has the potential of being a force multiplier for our agents in the field. Due to the manpower issues the Border Patrol is currently dealing with, force multipliers are an unfortunate necessity. This bill is the first step to ensuring that the Border Patrol has the most comprehensive, up to date, and effective force multiplying technology programs on the Northern and Southern borders. New and emerging technology program implementation is vital to the mission of the Border Patrol and the National Border Patrol Council is proud to endorse this bill.”

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection are tasked with monitoring and securing both our Northern and Southern borders – a daunting task considering the large amount of land and diversity of the terrain,” said Laura Hall, Managing Director, Bipartisan Policy Center Action. “Using technology to assist in their mission is an opportunity to improve awareness at our borders and reduce strains on personnel. Bipartisan Policy Center Action supports the bipartisan Integrating New Technologies to Empower Law-Enforcement (INTEL) at Our Borders Act, which requires DHS to create a comprehensive strategy for identifying, deploying, and integrating emerging technologies into border security and applauds the work of Rep. Elissa Slotkin to champion this important legislation.”

“As Co-Chair of the Northern Border Caucus, I work closely with local leaders to introduce legislation that supports our unique northern border needs,” said Stefanik. “I am proud to co-introduce this bipartisan legislation, which will shed light on the unique difficulties that our Customs and Border Protection personnel and other law enforcement experience, including a shortage of agents available, and provide DHS with a framework to make improvements. Because of the unique geography of the northern border, the implementation of new emerging technologies is also an important component of this bill. I will continue to work with our U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers and DHS to advocate for our northern border at the federal level, and I look forward to advancing this legislation in a bipartisan fashion.”

Details on the INTEL At Our Border Act: New technologies present an opportunity to maintain strong border security, while reducing strains on manpower at the border, in a cost-effective way. DHS is currently testing a number of emerging technology programs, including artificial intelligence-enabled surveillance systems and image processing software, LIDAR sensors, and fiber optic sensing technology, among others. However, effectively scaling these programs to replace technologies currently in use remains a challenge, and successfully integrating these technologies into a layered border defense requires a strategic plan for transitioning from the testing and development stage to wide-scale implementation.

Slotkin’s INTEL At Our Border Act will help jumpstart this process by requiring DHS to:

• Assess how it is currently using emerging technologies for border security;
• Assess existing gaps in situational awareness along the Northern and Southern borders to identify how emerging technology programs can help fill those gaps;
• Explain how DHS plans to replace legacy programs with new technologies;
• Describe how DHS will evaluate the effectiveness of new technology programs;
• Analyze DHS’s authorities for procuring new technologies to determine if new authorities are necessary;
• Explain how DHS is working to research and develop new technologies to improve border security;
• Explain how DHS is incentivizing the private sector to develop technologies to improve border security.

Last year, Slotkin traveled to Michigan’s Northern border, and participated in one of the only bipartisan trips to the Southern border as part of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. On both trips, Slotkin saw first-hand the challenges facing border security personnel in maintaining situational awareness along the vast Northern and Southern borders, exacerbated by current staffing shortages and recruitment struggles along our Northern border in particular. Following her trip to the Southern border, Slotkin introduced the Short-Term Detention Standards Act, to require the Administration to provide the full range of basic necessities to migrants in short-term custody –– the bill later passed the House with bipartisan support.

Additionally, over the past year, Slotkin has co-sponsored a number of different pieces of legislation to strengthen security along our borders, including a bill to require a minimum staffing level at the Northern border, other bipartisan legislation to improve port and border security through new technology, and in joining Republican colleagues to advocate for increased staffing along the Northern border. Slotkin also passed an amendment to a bill to recognize the importance of the Northern border in staffing recruitment and retention in remote areas.

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