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January 30, 2019

Rep. Pete Aguilar one of 17 working on border wall deal to prevent another government shutdown

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Redlands, does not support funding President Donald Trump’s “sea-to-shining-sea” border wall.

But the 31st District Congressman said Wednesday that he’s not against funding other forms of border protection, and wants to see where the evidence dictates the funding should go.

“What you will hear, and have heard, from House Democrats is that we need to follow the evidence,” Aguilar said. “We need to talk to experts and we need to decide, if we have one extra dollar to spend on border security, what the best way to spend that dollar is.”

Aguilar is one of 17 legislators, from both major parties, tasked with drafting border security legislation to satisfy Republicans and Democrats, and President Donald Trump, by Feb. 15. The formation of the committee was part of an agreement announced Jan. 25 by Trump to extend federal funding for three weeks and end a 35-day partial shutdown. If the committee can’t come up with something everybody will sign off on by mid-February, the government again might shut down.

Trump wants about $5.7 billion to fund construction of a wall along part of the United States and Mexico border, but has been unable to get congressional support without offering long-term protections to undocumented immigrants living in the United States. That led to the stalemate in late December.

The committee met for the first time Wednesday in Washington D.C.

“I thought it went well,” Aguilar said. “I thought both House and Senate members expressed a willingness to work together to find a solution.”

Rather than build an additional physical barrier at the border, Aguilar suggests investments in additional manpower or broader use of technology.

The committee, he said, needs to explore the use of technology to help monitor the border as well as create a safer port of entry. About 90 percent of all drugs confiscated at the border are taken at ports of entry.

Right now, Aguilar said, only 1 percent of personal vehicles and 17 percent of commercial vehicles are scanned for drugs and other contraband at U.S. ports of entry. Aguilar believes that should be expanded so that every vehicle gets scanned.

“We need to make sure we are using the latest and best technologies,” he said. “Right now, we are not doing enough of that.”

House Democrats also are concerned about a humanitarian crisis south of the border. Thousands of people have come to the U.S./Mexico border this year, many from Central America, to seek asylum in the United States, straining the immigration court system and detention facilities.

“Making sure that Homeland Security officers have proper training and medical equipment is something that is important to us, as well as ensuring folks aren’t sleeping on floors while they’re being detained,” Aguilar said. “Those are all points that we seek to address in our homeland security appropriations.”

Trump has said repeatedly he won’t sign any border legislation that doesn’t include funding for a wall, and he has said that he’ll declare a national emergency, or shut down the government again, if he doesn’t get one

Can the committee come up with legislation that Trump will sign?

“Our responsibility is to fund the government and we’re going to try to come up with an agreement that does just that,” Aguilar said.

“I think the more the president inserts himself into those proceedings the worse off we end up becoming. He should step aside and let us exercise our constitutional responsibility to provide oversight and direct the funding of our agencies.”

The 31st District includes all or parts of Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Redlands, Rialto, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland and San Bernardino.