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Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during a 2010 visit to Laredo. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by MARJORIE COTERA

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano during a 2010 visit to Laredo. TEXAS TRIBUNE PHOTO by MARJORIE COTERA

by JULIÁN AGUILAR

In a letter to Gov. Rick Perry, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that wait times at the nation’s busiest land port in Laredo could double to six hours and that more than $6 million in emergency management grants to Texas could be slashed because of the federal budget cuts that began taking effect Friday.

Detailing the effects of sequestration on agencies in Texas, Napolitano also said that international arrival wait times at the state’s busiest airports could increase by 50 percent and that the U.S. Coast Guard presence off Texas waters could decrease by 25 percent.

“Reductions mandated by sequestration will necessitate furloughs, hiring freezes and elimination of overtime pay for a significant portion of our frontline law enforcement personnel, which will impact staffing levels in Texas,” Napolitano wrote in the letter, dated Monday. “As sequestration is implemented, you can expect to see increased wait times at our nation’s airports and ports of entry, which will have serious consequences to the flow of trade and travel.”

The letter, provided to the Tribune by the office of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, says that in addition to Laredo, the port at El Paso, the second-busiest in Texas, might see an increase in average wait times to as long as three hours. There will also be a statewide reduction in “bio-agent detection and resiliency as well as explosive detection efforts.”

The governor’s office didn’t welcome the warnings.

“The administration should spend less time pointing fingers and more time working with Congress to find ways to responsibly and efficiently reign in the federal government’s spending habits,” Josh Havens, a spokesman in the governor’s office said in an email. “Blind, across-the-board budget cuts at the expense of national security are not the answer to balancing the federal budget.”

Cuellar said he sent the letter to news outlets because he wanted to emphasize the true impact of the federal inaction.

“I just want people to look at the big picture when it comes to sequestration,” said Cuellar, who added that he voted in 2011 for a plan to cut $1.5 trillion from the federal budget. “It does hit hard and $3 billion will come from the Department of Homeland Security. It is going to have an effect.”

Havens’ response comes one day after the governor criticized the administration for releasing thousands of undocumented immigrants from detention centers without advising states as to where or how many were released in an area. On Tuesday, members of the House Judiciary Committee sent out a news release stating they have learned through a leaked document the government plans to release thousands more before the end of March.

“As of February 15, 2013, the document shows that ICE had roughly 31,000 illegal immigrants and criminal aliens in detention – already below the 34,000 mandated by Congress – and planned to reduce that number to less than 26,000 by March 31, 2013,” committee press secretary Jessica Baker said in a news release. “According to sources, roughly 2,000 criminal aliens may have already been released so far.”

Cuellar, the only Texas Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the budget cuts go far beyond that.

“It’s not only what ICE did, but it’s also happening on the floor, on the ground with Border Patrol, but especially with customs. I just wanted to make sure everybody got the big picture and not focus only on the things they want to focus on.”

The sequester could mean as many as 5,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents and 2,750 Customs and Border Protection agents could be furloughed for weeks at a time and denied overtime, according to earlier testimony from DHS officials.


JULIÁN AGUILAR reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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3 thoughts on “Napolitano discusses impact of sequestration on Texas

  1. The pervassive evil and obvious incompetance of the Obama administration is unbelievable! I for one will be overjoyed when they no longer have the ability to endanger America and manipulate its resources for their own failed purposes. Let’s pray for treason charges soon, this is getting outright ridiculous, no doubt! :-) jlb

  2. On January 1, every working person’s federal taxes increased by 2-4%. Good citizens sucked it up, tightened their belts, and continued being responsible citizens. Hardly a peep was uttered or reported from tax payers. On March 1, an automatic 2.4% cut in GROWTH of the federal budget took effect and as a result, our government leaders throw a tantrum, telling us our world is about to end, attempting to cause panic and threatening our safety and security by releasing thousands of criminals from federal lockup, and being so childish as to stop public tours of the White House. It this a government that serves the people or serves itself? This is the Chicago Way.

  3. Now all you good citizens hand in your guns. Remember when they said no citizen needs more than a shotgun for protection and then fired all the border guards. Yeah that was hilarious. You got us good on that one.

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