Coming Together to Secure the Border
Over the past month, we've seen a rare Washington phenomenon. Democrats and Republicans came together in Congress to overwhelmingly pass a commonsense bill so that President Obama could quickly sign it into law. The reason? Gabby Giffords brought us together. I was honored to work with her to pass the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act, bipartisan anti-drug trafficking legislation that I sponsored with Sen. Dean Heller in the Senate and Gabby sponsored in the House. Now it's the law of the land.
The new law toughens the penalties for drug smugglers who use small, ultralight aircraft to quickly smuggle drugs across the border. If you're unfamiliar with these aircraft, watch this clip from the folks at National Geographic's "Border Wars," who caught video of an ultralight drug drop in progress.
In August last year, a small, ultralight aircraft crashed in the New Mexico bootheel. It was carrying 134 pounds of marijuana, smuggled across the border from Mexico. Ultralights are proving to be very efficient drug smuggling tools that are used by traffickers more and more to make drug drops in New Mexico and other border states. In fact, the Los Angeles Times reported that in the 2011 fiscal year, there were 228 border incursions by ultralights smuggling drugs.
An ultralight aircraft that crashed in the New Mexico bootheel. (Courtesy New Mexico Department of Public Safety)
It's easy to see why the smugglers are turning to ultralights. They can sweep in under the cover of night, make a drop and then disappear back across the border. But most remarkably, until now there were loopholes in the law that meant someone caught using an ultralight to smuggle drugs only faced a possession charge and didn't face the same repercussions as a smuggler using an airplane or automobile.
That's crazy. And it's why we fixed it.
The new law sets the same penalties for trafficking, whether it's by plane, automobile or ultralight – up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. It also gives law enforcement the tools they need to combat this type of drug trafficking, like adding attempt and conspiracy to the aviation smuggling law, so that the criminals who coordinate these kinds of operations can be prosecuted as well. As drug smugglers develop new techniques for getting illegal drugs into our country, we need to stay toe-to-toe with them by making sure our laws and law enforcement are equipped for the task.
This is a good law and I'm proud that we passed it. But it also goes to show that securing our border can and should be a bipartisan endeavor. The flow of drugs into this country impacts every community and ever person – Democrat or Republican. We should be able to pass bipartisan solutions – like this one – to a problem that affects everyone.
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