Ridge notes homeland funding effort, discusses smart border initiative

| 4/25/2003

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge visited the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego April 24 in part to ensure local officials that money is on the way to help communities pay for costs related to security.

Ridge said he realized mobilizing at a high level financially burdens communities. That's why President Bush signed an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that allocates more than $2.2 billion to help reimburse state and local governments, he added.

"In Southern California, you can clearly see the entire homeland security panorama," Ridge said, as reported by United Press International. "As you head north (from San Diego), you pass nuclear power plants, oil refineries and other guarded, yet highly visible critical infrastructure. Farther northwest are the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest and second busiest ports in the nation. "

California, like many other states, also has a budget hole estimated as high as $35 billion brought on primarily by the slow economy but aggravated by federal mandates involving homeland security and education programs.

Smart border progress
Meanwhile, Ridge met at the San Ysidro Port of Entry with his Mexican counterpart, Interior Minister Santiago Creel, to discuss the "Smart Border" program, which is intended to upgrade technology and speed up border crossings.

For example, San Diego's Otay Mesa crossing is often jammed with tractor-trailers hauling goods into the United States from Mexican maquiladora plants.

"We want to take every opportunity to nurture the growing trade relationship between Mexico and the United States," Ridge said after meeting with Creel. "We envision a border that is open for business, secure for the flow of people and closed to organized crime and terrorism. The implementation of the 'Smart Border' accord moves us closer to that goal. "

Ridge said the United States would expand the SENTRI program, which gives low-risk border crossers a special lane that gets them through the border with a minimum of delay.

In addition, a lane for commercial traffic will be opened at El Paso, TX, while in Tucson, AZ, the Border Patrol will expand its efforts to safeguard illegal immigrants crossing the border through the Arizona desert.