CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, November 27, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 915, Senate Amendments to H.R. 915, the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force Act, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval. The bill was originally introduced on March 3, 2011, by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security. The committee held a mark-up session on September 21, 2011, and ordered the bill to be reported by voice vote. On May 30, 2012, the bill was approved in the House by a vote of 391-2. The Senate approved the bill, with an amendment, by voice vote on September 22, 2012. The following Legislative Digest is based on the text of the bill as posted on the House Majority Leader’s website.
H.R. 915 would establish the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) program within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The purpose of BEST would be to enhance border security by facilitating collaboration among federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign law enforcement agencies to execute coordinated activities in furtherance of border security and homeland security and enhancing information-sharing between agencies. The Senate amended the House-approved version of this legislation by removing funding authority which authorized the appropriation of $50 million over ten years to establish and operate the BEST program. Presumably, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be required to provide funds through already existing authority and annual appropriations.
The bill would authorize the DHS, acting through the Assistant Secretary for ICE, to establish BEST units after considering the following: (1) whether the area where the unit would be established is significantly impacted by cross-border threats; (2) the availability of federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign law enforcement resources to participate in the unit; (3) the extent to which border security threats are having a significant harmful impact in the area and in other jurisdictions; and (4) whether an Integrated Border Enforcement Team already exists in the area where the BEST unit would be established.
Additionally, the bill would authorize the Secretary of DHS, in order to provide federal assistance to the area so designated, to do the following: (1) obligate such sums as are appropriated for the BEST program; (2) direct the assignment of federal personnel to that program; and (3) take other actions to assist state, local, tribal, and foreign jurisdictions to participate.
The bill would also direct the Secretary to report on the effectiveness of the program in enhancing border security and reducing the drug trafficking, arms smuggling, illegal alien trafficking and smuggling, violence, and kidnapping along and across U.S. borders.
The House bill would have authorized appropriations of $10 million per year for FY2012-2016 to establish and operate the BEST program, as well as to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals engaged in drug trafficking, arms smuggling, illegal alien trafficking, and smuggling, violence, and kidnapping along and across the U.S. borders. The Senate amendment removed this authorization. Presumably, DHS would be required to provide these funds through already existing authority and annual appropriations.
According to H. Rept. 112-268, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has partnered with Federal, State, local, and foreign law enforcement counterparts to create the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) initiative, a series of multi-agency teams developed to identify, disrupt, and dismantle criminal organizations posing significant threats to border security.”
The teams are designed to increase information sharing and collaboration among the agencies combating this threat by bringing all of the relevant stakeholders together to facilitate planning and operations to disrupt criminal organizations with a nexus to the border.
BEST teams incorporate personnel from ICE; Customs and Border Protection; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Coast Guard; and the U.S. Attorney's Office along with other key Federal, State, local and foreign law enforcement agencies. The Mexican law enforcement agency Secretaria de Seguridad Publica participates in southwest border BESTS, while the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police participate in BEST teams along the northern border.
This legislation is named in honor of ICE agent Jaime Zapata, who was killed in the line of the duty while serving on a BEST team in Mexico.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), implementing the House-passed bill would cost $48 million over the 2012-2016 period, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts. However, the version as amended by the Senate removed the authorization of funding from the House bill. CBO now estimates that the bill, as amended by the Senate, would cost about $1 million annually.