House committee calls for K-9s, infrastructure to curb drug running

Kelsey Sheehy Contributor
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Twenty-four hours after a gunman killed two Americans waiting at a border crossing, House committee members grilled officials Tuesday on how to curb trafficking of drugs, money and guns across U.S. borders.

The committee focused on improving infrastructure and investing in technology at border checkpoints, like the one Kevin Romero, 28, and Sergio Salcido, 25, were killed at Monday morning.

Romero and Salcido were shot in their truck while in line at the San Ysidro border crossing. Wait times for passenger vehicles at the crossing can be as high as two hours, according to the Customs and Border Protection’s website.

The crossing, which separates Tijuana, Mexico, from San Diego, is one of the country’s busiest entry points, with an estimated 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians entering the U.S. through it daily, according to the California Department of Transportation.

Construction on a new facility at this crossing began Feb. 24.

State-of-the-art facilities, like the one in progress at San Ysidro, would add more lanes, electronic signage to direct traffic, audio and video equipment in inspection booths and increased barriers, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Assistant Commissioner Thomas Winkowski told the committee Tuesday.

But committee members said infrastructure was not enough to stop the drugs and guns from pouring across U.S. borders, and called for increased use of K-9 dogs in sniffing out narcotics and weapons.

K-9 forces are credited with 60 percent of narcotic apprehensions, and 40 percent of all others, according to the U.S. Inspector General.

“You can have all the technology and manpower in the world. Who’s catching most of the drugs? The dogs,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Candice S. Miller, a Michigan Republican.

Miller noted the number of K-9s used by border enforcement agencies remained steady since 2008.

While Customs and Border Protection seized nearly $67 million in the last two years, that figure is only 1 percent of the total believed to be trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico.

Of the amount that was apprehended, only about $10 million of was cycled back into the agency, Winkowski said.

Instead of reinvesting in technology and K-9 resources to increase seizures and apprehensions, the money was put in the hands of the Dept. of Treasury, Winkowski said.

That process didn’t sit well with some members of the House Homeland Security Committee.

“It seems to me like all the money we’re seizing ought to go back to border patrols,” said Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul.

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