EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A congressman from West Texas wants more FEMA funds to shore up patrols and improve security technology on the southern border.
The Security First Act raises Federal Emergency Management Agency funding for Operation Stonegarden from $90 million to $180 million for the next three fiscal years. It also mandates that a third of that money be used for sensors, communication technology and drones. Operation Stonegarden is meant to boost cooperation between federal agencies and local law enforcement in travel corridors near the border.
The bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, also calls for using seized illicit currency for this program, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to see what can be done to retain Customs and Border Protection officers and designating the Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
“The challenges at our border are compounding by the minute and it’s imperative that our men and women protecting our border have the most up-to-date, sophisticated resources to do their jobs,” said Gonzales, who represents 820 miles of border from El Paso to Maverick counties, as well as inland territory all the way to San Antonio.
This is Gonzales’ first authored bill since being elected to office on Nov. 3.
“After speaking with countless law enforcement agents in my district, it is clear more funding for this program is needed,” Gonzales said Thursday as he introduced the bill. “A surge at our southern border is occurring. By strengthening our ability to cope with this evolving security challenges, the Security First Act helps protect the integrity of our southern border.”
The bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to report if the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the Sinaloa cartel, the Juarez cartel (NCDJ), the Gulf cartel and the remnants of the Tijuana cartel and the Zetas (Northeast cartel) meet the criteria for designation as terrorist organizations.
Some Republicans made a push during the Trump administration to designate CJNG, the Metros faction of the Gulf cartel and the Northeast cartel as terrorist organizations. The measure, House Bill 1700, languished in the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship.
But both Democrats and Republicans have been pushing for investing on more technology to protect the Southern border and to speed up lawful trade.
A fact sheet by the National Immigration Forum documents concerns about Operation Stonegarden draining resources from other spending priorities and trying to increase a cooperation between local and federal authorities that “undermines trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement.”
Critics also say the program lacks sufficient oversight and tracks minutiae such as miles driven, hours worked and traffic stops made rather than long-term results and community engagement.