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Protecting Our Homeland from Emerging Border Threats
By Billy Long

Drug cartels work tirelessly getting contraband into the United States by any means possible, such as exploiting the security gaps in the Caribbean border region. On June 21, 2012, I participated in a Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations, and Management Subcommittee hearing which covered emerging security threats to the U.S. and Caribbean border region.

I know that many Americans are rightfully paying attention to the ongoing threats on our southern border, but drug cartels are developing new avenues to ship their dangerous and illegal products into our country by exploiting the security gaps in the Caribbean. Indeed, as security on the southern border continues to tighten we can expect that more illegal activity will pick up along our less secure Caribbean maritime border.

During this hearing, my colleagues and I thoroughly examined many important issues such as the Caribbean maritime drug routes, the high level of drug-related violence in Puerto Rico, the connection between drug cartels and terrorists, and what actions our government is taking to secure this forgotten border region.

I had the opportunity to ask Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño and Rear Admiral William Lee of the U.S. Coast Guard pointed questions on this emerging danger to our homeland.

Governor Fortuño delivered sobering facts about the violent activities of rival drug cartels in Puerto Rico. He shared a story about two cartels fighting for control of retail points in the middle of a mall that left one cartel member dead and several innocent bystanders wounded. He also shared information about the murder rate in Puerto Rico, which is six times the national average because of the violent activities of drug cartels. The governor told the committee that in 2011, there were 1,136 murders in Puerto Rico. To put this in perspective, he compared the murder rates in Puerto Rico and Texas. The population in Puerto Rico is 3.7 million and the population in Texas is 25 million. In 2010, there were 1,246 homicides in Texas.

I asked Governor Fortuño what is being done to combat violence and stop the drug cartels. He told the committee he met with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder, but to date no new resources have been provided to head off this developing threat.

I questioned Admiral Lee on what is being done to stop the drug cartels from shipping their products to the homeland through the Caribbean, and if they have adequate resources to accomplish the mission. Admiral Lee replied that manpower is currently lean and growing leaner. When asked about tracking semi-submersible vehicles, he indicated the Coast Guard could catch drug traffickers using those types of craft. The Admiral also believes the drug cartels are starting to use fully submersible vehicles, which are more difficult for the Coast Guard to track. However, he acknowledged that when naval resources are in the area they have equipment to track submarines.

A frightening scenario for U.S. security is a union of drug cartels and terrorists working together to exploit the Caribbean border region. We all know our government has limited resources, but we must make protecting our homeland a top priority. In May, I proudly voted in support of H.R. 5652, the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act of 2012. This measure would preserve overall deficit reduction targets without further cutting defense spending. Without this action to preserve military funding, sequestration will result in a 10-percent deduction in Department of Defense programs and border security.

We need to secure our nation's southern border to stop the flow of illegal immigration and drugs into our country, but we should not take our eye off the sometimes forgotten maritime border region in the Caribbean.

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