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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Bush to Seek $10.7 Billion for Borders

Budget: President's initiative would be a fivefold boost for security. It calls for the hiring of new patrol and immigration agents.

January 26, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORTLAND, Maine — President Bush said Friday that he will seek $10.7 billion in new funds to bolster security along America's borders and its shorelines, part of his administration's broader effort to improve the nation's protections against foreign terrorists.

Bush said his new budget request, if approved by Congress, would represent a fivefold increase over current spending for border and shoreline security.

The initiative would allow the hiring of about 1,000 new immigration and customs agents and inspectors, as well as the modernization of a system to track the arrival and departure of noncitizens, the White House said.

A projected 350 new border patrol agents would be deployed along the U.S.-Canadian border, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House office of homeland security. Concern has grown since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks about the extent of security along the Canadian border.

No immediate increases along the U.S.-Mexican border are planned, Johndroe said, because recent additions along that border have brought the number of agents to about 9,000.

Speaking at Southern Maine Technical College, Bush also sought to head off business concerns that stricter border security would slow international trade.

The president said he would seek to make sure that the border initiative "does not tie up commerce but, on the other hand, prevents illegal drugs, terrorists [and] arms from flowing across our border."

His appearance here marked the third straight day he has focused on security priorities that will be in his proposed 2003 fiscal year budget, which he will submit Feb. 4. He also is expected to highlight these goals in his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

Earlier this week, Bush announced he will seek a $48-billion increase in military spending and a boost of $38 billion in overall spending for homeland security.

The $10.7 billion for border and shoreline security spending that he highlighted Friday is part of the money request for homeland protection. Much of the remainder would be used for stockpiling medicines, upgrading public health infrastructure and upgrading police, fire and rescue services around the country.

Despite an abrupt return to huge federal budget deficits, brought on by the recession and the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush touted his spending initiatives for homeland security without apology.

"The price of victory is well worth it," he told hundreds of people crammed into a gymnasium at the college. "My biggest job is to make sure our homeland is secure."

He warned that the threat of more terrorist attacks remains very real.

"The enemy still wants to hit us. And therefore this nation must do everything in our power to prevent it," Bush said.

Under the president's proposal, the Customs Service's inspection budget would grow by $619 million, to $2.3 billion. The increase would allow the agency, which has 10,000 inspectors and agents, to hire 800 more. In addition, the service would be able to purchase technologically advanced equipment that can expedite inspections.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's enforcement budget would grow by $1.2 billion, to $5.3 billion. In addition to hiring new border patrol agents, the agency would use the funds to install integrated systems to provide timely enforcement data to agents in the field.

The Coast Guard's homeland security-related budget would grow by $282 million, to $2.9 billion. Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Coast Guard's port-security mission has grown from about 2% of its daily operations to 50% to 60%, according to the White House.

The new funds would allow the Coast Guard to develop more sophisticated mechanisms to track vessels.

Finally, the Agriculture Department's quarantine inspection budget would grow by $14 million, to $61 million. The funds would enable the agency to acquire additional resources and equipment to better conduct inspections at border crossings and on flights entering the United States.

The challenge of providing "the smart border of the future," as the White House dubbed Bush's spending initiative, is steep.

Each year, noncitizens make about 330 million legal visits to the United States. Of these, an estimated 40% overstay their visas, according to the INS.

Bush said an improved tracking system would target such visitors.

"One of the things we want to make sure of is we find the 40% to make sure they're not part of some Al Qaeda network that wants to hit the United States," Bush said, referring to the terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden.

The 11.2 million trucks and 2.2 million rail cars that cross into the U.S. each year, and the 7,500 foreign-flagged ships that make 51,000 calls in U.S. ports annually present another immense challenge for border security authorities.

Upon his arrival here, the president went to the Portland Marine International Terminal, where he toured the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Tahoma. The 100-crew cutter was the command vessel in New York Harbor on Sept. 11 and then stayed on for 40 days afterward.

Sitting in the cutter's cramped, low-ceilinged mess hall, Bush told several dozen crew members: "We're winning, and I want to thank you all for helping us win. But we've got a lot to do."

After his speech, the president flew to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, where he was to host about 20 senior congressional Republicans on Friday night for a legislative strategy session--and a sleepover.

The group was expected to view "Black Hawk Down," a recently released movie that graphically depicts a U.S. raid against a warlord in Mogadishu, Somalia, in which 18 American soldiers were killed.

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