The chairman of the House panel that oversees funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that he supports the Trump administration’s proposed increases for the two agencies that are focused on land border security and immigration enforcement.

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said on Tuesday at the outset of a hearing to examine the FY ’18 budget requests of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the proposed spending levels are “a start in the right direction.”

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), HAC HS chairman.
Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), HAC HS chairman.

CBP is seeking $13.9 billion in discretionary spending in FY ’18, $1.7 billion higher than FY ’17 with the increase sought primarily for new and replacement physical barriers and related infrastructure along 74 miles of border in the southern United States. ICE wants $7.6 billion in discretionary spending, $1.1 billion more than in FY ’17, with most of the increase for detention and removal of illegal aliens.

Pointing out that illegal immigration flows into the U.S. are down during the first few months of the Trump administration, Carter said, “I support proposed increased for CBP and ICE … In my opinion, technology solutions that improve situational awareness and the infrastructure that slows illegal crossings makes the country safer. Too often the discussion about the border security revolves around illegal immigration, which is certainly part of the story. The rest of the story is that illegal immigrants can exploit vulnerabilities in the nation’s border. If they can do it, so can the terrorist, drug smuggling and human trafficking organizations. This is unacceptable.”

Carter, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, said that Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), chairman of the full committee, wants all subcommittee appropriations bills reported out before the August recess.

The requested budget request for CBP is focused on helping to fulfill President Donald Trump’s desire for a wall that stretches along most, if not all, the entire U.S. southern border with Mexico, to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. Carter told the witnesses from CBP and ICE that he wants to know more about why the DHS budget request doesn’t put more emphasis on technology for border security and personnel at ports of entry, which is where most of the illegal drugs and currency enter the U.S.

Carla Provost, the acting chief of the Border Patrol, a division of CBP, told the panel that a key funding priority in FY ’18 is tactical radio assets, highlighting that “nearly 72,000 units of CBP’s radio inventory are obsolete or have exceeded their useful life.” CBP is requesting $44 million for secure communications assets in FY ’18.

The funding request for new and replacement physical barriers along the southern border is $1.9 billion. The administration is requesting some increases for border security technology, including $46.2 million for the Remote Video Surveillance System, $17 million more than in FY ’17, $20 million for unattended ground sensors, which weren’t funded this year, and $17.4 million for new Integrated Fixed Towers, $2 million more than this year.

CBP is also requesting $2.5 million for small unmanned aircraft systems that could be used by Border Patrol agents to give them greater situational awareness in the immediate vicinities that they operate in. Provost said the agents are “excited” to be pilot testing Small UAS systems, adding that “we have reach a point” where the technology will benefit them.

At ports of entry, CBP is seeking $109.2 million for non-intrusive inspection systems that scan vehicles, containers, rail cars, parcels and mail for people, drugs, radiological and nuclear material, and other contraband that might be entering the U.S. illegally. John Wagner, deputy executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, said that the request will support replacing 52 large-scale and about 600 small-scale NII systems, and keeps the equipment running at its expected service life by 2024. He said most of the large-scale systems to be purchased with the funds are Z Portals, which are manufactured by OSI Systems [OSIS].

Most NII equipment that is at land ports of entry is used for secondary screening purposes. Wagner said CBP is examining the possibility of using NII systems to screen all trucks entering the U.S. to see what the impact would be on the flow of commerce.