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In the last couple of weeks, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has announced that due to budget cuts nine interior CBP stations are being closed – one of which is in Montana. Yet, Rep. Denny Rehberg and other Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have passed House Resolution 1505, which will require the CBP to attempt controlling an additional 5 million square miles.

One only has to read HR1505’s statement of purpose to begin having doubts about it being an acceptable bill: “To prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands, and for other purposes.” Nowhere in the bill is there a definition of, or limitations to, “for other purposes.”

A further definition of purpose is found in Section 2, Paragraph (a): “... to achieve operational control ... over the international land and maritime borders of the United States ... ” This statement, combined with the lack of definition of “other purposes,” makes the citizens of Montana simply spectators and bystanders for the foreseeable future while the Department of Homeland Security may potentially build roads, aircraft landing strips, or forward operating bases (whatever those may be) without any oversight.

The next point of concern in HR1505 is found in Section 2, Paragraph (c), sub-paragraph 1: “… shall be considered to apply to all sections of the international land and maritime borders of the United States within 100 miles of the international land and maritime borders of the United States … ” Considering that the widest point between Montana’s north and south borders is only 315 miles, this bill gives Homeland Security absolute and unlimited control of over 1/3 of our state for security, “operational control,” and “other purposes.” There is also the question of why 100 miles? Isn’t this an arbitrary, irrational, and unnecessarily large area?

While it is understandable that most of the letters, guest columns and editorials here in the Missoulian are related to the Montana/Canadian border, there is far more at stake. Taking the bill at face value and considering only the Canadian border, it will also give Homeland Security absolute and unlimited control of Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Buffalo, about half of Vermont and New Hampshire and more than half of North Dakota.

If we include all the “maritime borders” we then expand this absolute and unlimited control into very large portions of Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, plus Washington, D.C.

Where are the resources – money and personnel – that will be necessary to cover the 5,525,000 square miles of border just between the USA and Canada, not to mention the “maritime borders”? Remember, CBP’s 2012 budget is being cut by the same people who want to expand its responsibilities.

There has been concern stated over smuggling and illegal immigration across Montana’s northern border, which seems to be more fear-mongering than a real issue. Historically, this border has not been a major crossing point for drugs, illegal immigrants, or terrorists due to the rugged terrain. While guest columnist Liane Johnson (July 12) has seen evidence of damage and debris left by border crossers, there was no evidence presented that they were either drug smugglers or terrorists, just irresponsible and inconsiderate travelers.

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HR1505 will burden U.S. Customs and Border Protection with additional mandates related to “securing” not only the northern border of Montana, but the entire northern border (if not all “maritime borders”) of the contiguous United States from a hypothetical threat when the Border Patrol does not even have enough resources to control the Mexican border, which is a proven crossing point for drugs and illegal immigrants. With the strong potential for budget cuts in the coming sessions of Congress, HR1505 simply does not make sense. Our priority should be to control known problem areas before dreaming up additional, no-value-added ways to scare U.S. citizens.

The Senate and our president simply must see the disastrous long-term possibilities of this line of thought and deny passage of both this bill and the very similar Senate bill, SB803. We cannot allow the Department of Homeland Security to become our de facto dictator.

C. Burt Caldwell of Missoula is a retired manufacturing executive.

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