Tester convenes bipartisan panel of lawmakers to write security plan for border

Sen. Jon Tester is working to draft a bipartisan agreement on border security and is racing to do so before the short-term budget bill expires next month, he said this week.

On Wednesday, Tester met with Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen and a group of lawmakers from both parties to draft a security plan for the border that would increase manpower and access to new technology.

Tester’s announcement comes just days after the Senate passed a controversial funding bill to reopen the federal government. Tester voted against the measure, saying it was bad for Montana.

“I refuse to let partisan politics and Washington dysfunction derail my push to strengthen our borders,” Tester said. “I’m going to keep the pressure turned up on both parties and make sure folks stay at the negotiating table until we have an agreement to make a responsible investment to increase security on the northern and southern borders.”

Without an agreement that includes funding border security, immigration and other issues, the government could see another shutdown on Feb. 8, when the short-term funding bill expires.

Over the past few months, Tester has expressed frustration at Washington’s failure to pass a long-term budget.

“Since government funding expired last September, Congress has failed to pass a long-term budget that delivers for Montana,” Tester said on Twitter. “I’m saying enough is enough.”

Tester, a ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said the border security agreement would hire 500 new patrol officers annually to backfill a shortage estimated at more than 3,500 officers.

The bill would invest in new technologies, vehicles, roads, and facilities to better secure the borders, and it would require border patrol agents to use fiber optic technology to better detect border crossings.

Tester said the measure would also require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report the use of devices that monitor cell-phone conversations along the border, and it would provide grants to support local law enforcement in their efforts to secure the border.