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Obama signs bill to review northern border threats

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has signed a bill that will help identify threats and challenges facing federal agents at the northern border. The Northern Border Security Review Act, sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., became law Wedn...

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp
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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has signed a bill that will help identify threats and challenges facing federal agents at the northern border.

The Northern Border Security Review Act, sponsored by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., became law Wednesday after both chambers of Congress unanimously passed the bill in November. The law aims to improve recruitment and retention efforts for the northern border, determine what tools border agents need to combat drug and human trafficking, identify technology that could expand the reach of agents and find vulnerabilities in cooperation among Canadian, state, local and tribal law enforcement.

"It guarantees, as far as I'm concerned, that when we talk about border security, the focus won't be 99.9 percent on just the southern border," she said.

Though signed into law Wednesday, Border Patrol officials have been working to begin the study, Heitkamp said. She expects the study could be finished in the next 180 days.

Border Patrol agents are responsible for 5,500 miles of border, including the Alaska-Canada line, and its 120 border ports. The law is significant for the Grand Forks Sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection since it oversees 861 miles of border - the most any sector in the U.S. protects. It contains 32 stations along the Canadian border, including the Pembina Port of Entry located about 80 miles north of Grand Forks.

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That port is North Dakota's busiest.

The last time threats and challenges for the northern border were reviewed was in 2011, according to Heitkamp's office.

Heitkamp said she has been working on Border Patrol issues, particularly ones pertaining to the Canadian border since she took office in 2012. She said those who talk about Border Patrol often think of the southern border, which faces illegal immigration problems and where most of the drugs that are brought into the U.S. come.

She said the dangers agents guarding the southern border face haven't decreased or shifted to the northern border, but more people are realizing there are threats facing agents at the Canadian border. She added she wants to make sure discussions on the northern border are always on the agenda when federal officials talk about Homeland Security.

"Obviously, those of us who live in states like North Dakota and Montana know we have big, wide-open border which over history has been incredibly friendly and peaceful," she said. "But yet we know there is contraband and we know that there is trafficking, whether it is drug or human trafficking. We know that there are risks on the northern border, so we want to make sure that when we are talking about border security in this country that we are including and are fully aware of the challenges on the northern border."

Related Topics: PEMBINAHEIDI HEITKAMP
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