Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., pushed for more CBP scanning of vehicles crossing land ports of entry during a hearing Tuesday.
Durbin blasted the Trump administration for requesting $5 billion to fund a border wall in its most recent annual budget request, claiming the funds requested for wall construction draw potential resources away from CBP counter-narcotics funding areas, such as nonintrusive inspection (NII) technology. He asked CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who testified during the hearing, whether CBP could raise the amount of NII-scanned arrival cargo, passenger vehicles and sea containers above the current proportion of 18 percent.
“How much money does it take for the scanning so that we can find contraband, narcotics, weapons, other things coming in?” Durbin asked McAleenan. “What do you need? How much money?”
McAleenan said his agency would need an annual amount of $300 million or more provided over several years to dramatically raise the percentage of scanned arrival cargo, passenger vehicles and sea containers, and noted that CBP provided technical assistance to congressional appropriators in this regard.
Durbin is on the Senate Appropriations Committee, but sounded surprised when McAleenan stated the figure.
“Three hundred million?” Durbin said. “That’s a heck of a lot less than 5 billion.”
Moments earlier, Durbin cited a disparity between amounts requested by CBP for the wall and for contraband-targeting technologies and attempted to link that contrast to lack of passion by CBP in targeting illicit drug shipments, which McAleenan refuted.
“I can promise you the passion and commitment here, and with my men and women in the field, is absolute for our counter-narcotics mission,” McAleenan said.
He later added, “The wall’s also very important because we’ve got increased hard narcotics coming between ports of entry,” pointing to a 25 percent increase in 2017.
McAleenan also noted additional tools provided through the recently enacted Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act and International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology (INTERDICT) Act, saying these new laws have helped CBP detect and test for Fentanyl.
The INTERDICT Act requires CBP to increase the number of chemical screening devices available to officers in order to seize opioids illegally imported into the U.S.
The STOP Act requires the U.S. Postal Service to transmit electronic data to CBP prior to import on at least 70 percent of international mail arriving in the U.S. by Dec. 31 and on 100 percent of such mail by Dec. 31, 2020.
But CBP currently is receiving advance electronic data only on more than 40 percent of all international mail shipments with goods, McAleenan said in written testimony for the hearing. Yet an increasing number of foreign postal operators are providing advance electronic data to USPS, which is then passed to CBP, McAleenan wrote.
Language in the STOP Act states that if the advance data requirements aren’t met, the U.S. Comptroller General must submit to Congress a report including the reasons for not meeting the requirements and recommendations for improving USPS collection of advance data by June 30, 2019.
CBP and USPS are planning to expand their advance data pilot targeting high-risk express mail and e-packets, currently ongoing at five of CBP’s main international mail facilities, McAleenan stated in testimony.
In Fiscal Year 2018, CBP “seized or disrupted” 248,132 pounds of methamphetamine, 282,570 pounds of cocaine, 6,552 pounds of heroin and 1.1 million pounds of marijuana, McAleenan wrote.