On Wednesday, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) testified before Congress on the need to ensure the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has the resources it needs to enhance border security operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — the Nation’s Caribbean border.
“A well-coordinated approach to secure the U.S. homeland requires attention to the Caribbean,” she began. “Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have long been exploited by criminal organizations as a destination and transit zone for illegal drugs, which endangers the lives of Americans in the two territories and the mainland.”
Coast Guard funding
Gonzalez-Colon spoke first about a request to increase funding for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard requested $29.2 million to update helicopters at Air Station Borinquen in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. They would replace MH-65 Dolphin helicopters with MH-60 Jayhawk models.
The Jayhawk is a variant of the Blackhawk, and is specially designed for search and rescue missions. It has a higher fuel capacity than the Dolphin, and room for more passengers.
“MH-60 helicopters will improve border security mission effectiveness and search and rescue missions due to their greater capacity for people and equipment and their longer on-scene time,” Gonzalez-Colon informed the committee. “This is especially important in Air Station Borinquen’s Area of Responsibility, where the large swathes of ocean between islands limit options for refueling.”
The resident commissioner continued, “The FY 2021 budget request includes a $2.5 million increase to expand the Coast Guard’s capacity to execute a multi-layered approach in the Western Hemisphere maritime transit zone. Per the budget request, this funding would increase the Coast Guard’s capacity to counter Transnational Criminal Organizations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I therefore request that the Subcommittee similarly provide this increase in FY 2021.”
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
ICE-Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is requesting $400,000 to support Tactical Communications site expansions in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Tactical Communications systems facilitate radio communication among Federal partners, public safety agencies, and state, local, tribal, and territorial stakeholders,” Gonzalez-Colon explained. “The requested $400,000 will support new infrastructure that will minimize redundancies and communications gaps that exist between DHS Components and other Federal, state, and local partners in the Northern Caribbean.”
Additional support for the Ramey Border Patrol Sector in Puerto Rico, the only Border Patrol sector outside of the continental U.S., has been provided each year since 2015, and Gonzalez-Colon asked that this support be continued.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
FEMA requested $1.7 million to renovate its Distribution Center in Puerto Rico. The intention is to increase capacity in the Distribution Center by 33%. FEMA stated that they had learned from the difficulties of responding to Hurricane Maria that they needed more distribution capacity in the Caribbean.
Gonzalez-Colon concluded, “I also urge the Subcommittee to provide robust funding for State Homeland Security Grants, Operation Stonegarden Grants, Port Security Grants, and Emergency Management Performance Grants, which provide critical resources to local law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico.”