U.S. Representative Ron Barber, Congressional District 2, Arizona
Be assured that I am aggressively fighting to prevent these irresponsible budget cuts from going into full effect. We need a balanced approach to deal with the deficit and debt. Sequestration is not the answer.
But to Southern Arizonans who live near the border, the dangers of sequestration will be harshly apparent when Border Patrol agents are ordered to walk away from their jobs at the end of their shifts.
Cuts to the Border Patrol are not only among the most devastating caused by sequestration, they also will erode the progress we have made toward securing our border and will degrade our safety and our national security.
Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, wrote this in a letter to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer this month: “Reductions mandated by sequestration will necessitate furloughs, hiring freezes and elimination of overtime pay for a significant portion of our frontline law enforcement personnel, which will impact staffing levels in Arizona.”
This is unacceptable.
Here is how that will affect us here in Southern Arizona: Securing the border in the Arizona desert is not a 9-to-5, 40-hour-per-week job for Border Patrol agents. Overtime work has become routine — and necessary.
Border Patrol agents work far from their duty stations. If they are in the middle of tracking a group of dangerous drug smugglers as the end of their shift approaches, they can’t turn the job over to a nearby colleague and call it a day.
But with the elimination of overtime pay, Border Patrol agents will be left with little time to patrol remote areas of Southern Arizona. Allowing time to drive to and from their patrol stations will cut into their time for actually patrolling the border.
Additionally, Border Patrol agents will be furloughed without pay for 14 days — one day every two-week pay period until the end of the fiscal year. That amounts to a 10 percent pay cut in addition to 20 percent to 30 percent lost from cuts to overtime pay.
The Border Patrol agents who put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniforms deserve better. Their families deserve better. Americans citizens — who have the right to be safe and secure — deserve better.
I am working with DHS, leadership of the Border Patrol Council Local 2544, as well as the agents and their families to fight the immense and unfair impact of these cuts. The work they do every day do is critical to our communities and our nation. I will continue fighting for them.
These cuts are wrong, and they punish agents in the field who do dangerous and difficult work to keep us safe and protect our homeland.
In the dry language of Washington, we are told that the furloughs and elimination of overtime will result in a “diminished capability and capacity to detect and interdict illicit activity along Arizona’s border with Mexico.”
Here is how I read that: Our border will be less secure.
That must not happen.
And that is why I have written to House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting that they reverse these sequestration-driven budget cuts to the Department of Homeland Security.
As I told those congressional leaders, our borders are not secure unless they are patrolled around the clock. Cuts to agents’ overtime hours and the implementation of furloughs will leave Border Patrol stations understaffed and forward operating bases unmanned.
This creates windows of opportunity for criminals to cross our borders. We must maintain full continuity in our security efforts on the border. National security — and the security of Southern Arizonans — is at risk.
We’ve made progress recently on other fronts. I successfully fought to keep the aerostat radar blimps that monitor border activity from being dismantled. We were able to keep one vital asset for border security in place. But we cannot give with one hand and take with another.
It is the responsibility of those of us in Congress to provide the full resources necessary to keep our nation safe. This must be a top priority for all of us.
RON BARBER is the U.S. Representative for Congressional District 2 in Arizona, representing all of Cochise County and part of Pima County.