US House approves Jenniffer González-Colón’s Maritime Border Security Review Act
The United States House of Representatives has passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón: HR 5869, the Maritime Border Security Review Act. This bill requires the US Secretary of Homeland Security to conduct a detailed threat analysis of the United States’ maritime border, including the Transit Zone and the borders and territorial waters of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Federal authorities have long been concerned about criminal activity along the Transit Zone, a seven million square-mile area, roughly twice the size of the continental US, that includes the sea corridors of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, for instance, have been exploited as both a destination and transshipment point for illicit drugs shipped to the mainland, endangering the lives of Americans in the two territories and the continental US.
According to the US Coast Guard, the total known flow of undocumented migrants attempting to enter the United States by maritime routes in 2016 was almost 10,000 individuals. The known cocaine flow through the Transit Zone reached about 2,700 metric tons in FY 2017. During the same year, US Customs and Border Protection officers seized almost 66,000 pounds of narcotics in and around Puerto Rico from drug cartels and smugglers, more than any previous year on record.
HR 5869 is part of the Resident Commissioner’s commitment to improve national security measures and ensure the safety of the American people. The bill includes provisions that require an assessment of terrorism and criminal threats along the maritime border, improvements needed at US seaports to reduce criminal activity, and current vulnerabilities in law that prevent effective border security.
“As the United States moves to secure its borders, it is imperative that we confront the threats posed by criminal and drug trafficking organizations seeking to enter the Nation through our maritime frontier. It is also necessary that we address public safety challenges faced by the American citizens of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, the only US territories located geographically within the Transit Zone,” said González-Colón on the House floor.
To better understand these and other threats, HR 5869 further requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider technology and personnel needs at the US maritime frontier; the role of State and local law enforcement in maritime border security activities; the geographic challenges of the maritime border; and the impact of last year’s devastating hurricanes on general border security activities to the maritime border.
The House Committee on Homeland Security unanimously passed HR 5869 during a full committee markup scheduled on July 24, 2018. The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Peter King (R) of New York, Dan Donovan (R) of New York, Don Bacon (R) of Nebraska, Stephanie Murphy (D) of Florida, Mario Diaz-Balart (R) of Florida and Sean Duffy (R) of Wisconsin.