President signs Cornyn’s ports bill into law

Despite the government partially shutting down over border wall funding, President Trump has signed a bill co-authored by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, into law. The bill seeks to study strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities of ports of entry, including international bridges like those in South Texas.

The legislation seeks to improve trade and travel while decreasing illegal activity, which the international bridges in the Rio Grande Valley deal with routinely.

“Trade and travel through Texas’ many ports of entry spur our state’s economy, connect cross-border communities and provide jobs for millions of Texans, so it’s important we ensure ports have the resources and information they need to run efficiently and safely,” Cornyn said in a statement.

Cornyn co-authored the bipartisan bill, called, “The United States Ports of Entry Threat and Operational Review Act,” with U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI. The legislation calls for the Homeland Security Secretary to submit a detailed analysis about potential threats, improvements needed and loopholes in the port systems.

Most drug smuggling attempts take place at international bridges on the southwest border. In between the bridges, however, federal authorities typically encounter one kind of drug: marijuana. Customs and Border Protection has acknowledged a need for better staffing at international bridges in South Texas.

CBP Chief Kevin McAleenan acknowledged this deficiency at land ports of entry at an April congressional hearing.

“There’s a deficit in investment in ports of entry that is decades-long that we need to continue to work with Congress to fund,” McAleenan told the House Homeland Security Committee’s Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee. “We have about a $4 billion deficit at ports of entry.”

McAleenan did not dive into specifics, but he also mentioned a pilot program that Cornyn helped turn into law in 2016 alongside U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. CBP had tested so-called public-private partnerships to boost staffing and infrastructure improvements at ports of entry. That program sought to allow different levels of government, as well as private entities, to pay for staffing or infrastructure improvements the ports.

International bridges in South Texas experimented with the program to success, so Cornyn and Cuellar introduced the Cross-Border Trade Enhancement Act, which passed Congress and was signed into law by President Obama in December 2016.

Cornyn and Cuellar celebrated the bill’s passage with an event featuring fajita tacos at the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission.

The ability to work with the private sector through this legislation has also been referred to as the donation acceptance program, which McAleenan also referenced in that April hearing in response to a question from U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who mentioned Valley bridges.

“The donation acceptance program, which allows us to work with private sector entities, with cities and state and local governments like you referenced in South Texas, meets some of the need and flexibility where there’s a return on investment,” McAleenan said.