HR 22, or, the “SMART Border Act of 2017,” aims to augment security on the US-Mexico international border through the routine implementation of technology and equipment that has previously been heavily utilized in border security.
In Section 11, HR 22 defines operational control as “a condition in which all illegal border crossers are apprehended and narcotics and other contraband are seized.” The bill grants permission to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to “take all actions necessary and appropriate to maintain operational control” of the border.
HR 22 proposes a number of technological advancements to border security. Primarily, the bill authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deploy “smart border technology such as seismic detectors and unmanned aerial vehicles [i.e., drones] to achieve and maintain operational control” for specific areas if they determine that the area is at an insufficient level of operational control.
The bill permits the transfer and reuse of military equipment returning to the US from overseas deployment, specifically from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. The bill notes that this equipment includes surveillance drones, weaponized drones (such as the MQ-9 Reaper), night vision goggles, and high-mobility multi-purpose wheel vehicles (also known as Humvees). However, this transfer must take place within one year of the equipment’s return to US soil and meet the conditions outlined in 10 U.S.C. 2576a, which regulates the sale or donation of excess DHS property to law enforcement agencies. The Department of Defense can transfer this military equipment to federal, state, and local agencies, though priority will be given to agencies that will primarily use the equipment to achieve and maintain operational control of the border.
Additionally, the SMART Border Act establishes the Southern Borderlands Public Safety Communications Grant Program. These competitive grants are designed for public-private partnerships and will “finance equipment and infrastructure to improve public safety” of Americans living in rural areas near the Mexican border, especially those “impacted by illegal smuggling and trafficking of goods and people from Mexico.” Specifically, the grants focus on enhancing mobile communication in these areas, as the networks are generally less dependable than in more urbanized areas. The bill hopes to fund these grants with the $10 million that would be freed by repealing the International Forestry Cooperation Act of 1990 (16 U.S.C. 4501 et seq.), which grants forestry and related natural resource assistance to other countries in a cooperative effort to combat climate change.
HR 22 dictates the enforcement of a biometric entry and exit data system created in 8 U.S.C. 1365b et seq. This biometric entry and exit system specifically requires a fingerprint, handprint, or other unique biological marker for all foreign nationals entering or exiting the United States. The system helps determine whether a visa should be issued and assesses the “admissibility or deportability” of foreign nationals. It is interoperable and can be used by Border Patrol, law enforcement agencies, and federal officials. HR 22 requires that the system be implemented and routinely utilized at each port of entry to the United States.
Finally, HR 22 allows the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to request up to 10,000 additional National Guard members to be deployed along the US-Mexico border. It also creates a grant program for sheriff’s departments in counties along the border to fund the hiring of additional deputies. Other items allow for the appointment of 1,500 new Border Patrol personnel and the preferential hiring and expedited clearance of returning military veterans for those new positions.