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Tester joins senators in urging Biden to boost drug interdiction efforts

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | March 9, 2023 12:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is petitioning the Biden administration to allocate more dollars toward interdicting fentanyl at the nation’s southern border.

A March 3 letter sent by the three-term Democratic senator in conjunction with colleagues on both sides of the aisle urged President Joe Biden to support the funding of a common integration platform program, which would let U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents more easily employ information gathered using what is deemed non intrusive screening technology at points of entry.

Customs and Border Protection agents already use the technology to screen ships and vehicles coming through several ports of entry, according to the letter. The missive calls on the Biden administration to add dedicated funding for the platform program to its fiscal year 2024 budget.

“Montana families are facing the disastrous consequences of the flow of fentanyl into our state because politicians in D.C. haven’t done their job to secure our borders,” Tester said in a press release announcing the request last week.

Fentanyl seizures by Customs and Border Protection have nearly tripled since 2019, according to the letter. The customs department seized almost 5,000 pounds of fentanyl in 2019. In 2022, they seized nearly 15,000 pounds.

So far during the 2023 federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, agents have already seized nearly 13,000 pounds of fentanyl.

“Overdose deaths in the United States, particularly due to fentanyl poisoning, continue to pose a grave threat to our communities,” the senators wrote in the letter.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Arizona, and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, all signed onto the letter.

The letter comes nearly three months after the Senate approved the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, which included Tester’s Protecting America’s Borders Against Fentanyl Act, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to research fentanyl targeting technologies.

The defense authorization bill also included Tester’s PREVENTS Act, which directed the Homeland Security Department to buy containment devices to store illicit narcotics to help border agents safely handle and store illegal drugs.

The Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which Biden signed into law at the end of December, allocates nearly $817 billion to the Defense Department.

In the letter, the senators argue that wider implementation of the non intrusive screening technology will allow for shorter wait times on the border. Investing in newer, drive-through technology systems in pre-primary inspection areas will benefit trade, the senators wrote.

The technology will provide a “force multiplier capability” to Customs and Border Protection personnel while “increasing trade and travel," the letter said. The senators predicted a reduction in wait times at border crossings where the non intrusive screening technology is deployed.

Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or at 758-4459.

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