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Guest opinion

Giffords: Bipartisanship on border security is possible

In these fraught political times, just weeks away from a high-stakes election, you might think it would be impossible for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to achieve anything on a contentious issue like border security.

Think again.

Late last month, 412 members of the House of Representatives voted for a bill to crack down on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to sneak illegal drugs into our country. It was a demonstration of bipartisanship that should make every American proud.

Supporters of my Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act included 246 Democrats and 166 Republicans. Among them was every member of Arizona's House delegation.

Arizona has long been on the front lines of the border crisis confronting our nation. That crisis is complex – it won't be solved by a single piece of legislation. But securing our border and improving safety in our border communities requires us to set aside our differences and work together.

That's exactly what happened with the Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act. This bill, which I introduced in May with Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada, will amend an 80-year-old federal law so ultralights are included under our aviation smuggling provisions.

The Senate should move quickly to pass this bill. If it becomes law, individuals caught smuggling using ultralights can be prosecuted for using the aircraft in addition to being prosecuted for the drugs in their possession. If they are convicted of this new offense, they can receive a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. This bill will establish the same penalties for smuggling drugs on ultralights as for those who smuggle using airplanes or automobiles.

The overwhelming support for the Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act is evidence that my colleagues in Congress are beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation on our border. Slowly but surely, they are getting the message.

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We saw bipartisanship at work with the recent passage of legislation authorizing $600 million in emergency funds for more Border Patrol agents and other border security measures. This bill became law on Aug. 13 and this much-needed money already is beginning to come to Arizona.

Too often, though, the critical steps we need to take to strengthen border security can get bogged down by shouting matches over amnesty. No responsible lawmaker today is talking about granting amnesty to anyone who broke our nation's laws by sneaking across our borders. Granting amnesty as President Reagan did in 1986 is completely unacceptable to me and unfair to all those who played by the rules and entered our country legally.

But the "no amnesty" rhetoric is little more than a headline-grabbing distraction. Over the past 3½ years, I have worked to move past the empty slogans to make sure my colleagues and top administration officials appreciate the gravity of the crisis on our border. This summer, Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, came to the border at my invitation to see for himself the problems we face every day and hear directly from Cochise County ranchers.

These ranchers told Thompson in no uncertain terms that they feel betrayed and abandoned by their own government. They questioned how our border security personnel and resources were being used to protect them, their homes and their land from the smugglers.

Thompson came away from that meeting determined to help – and he has made good on his promise. The congressman has joined me in requesting an independent investigation of how the Border Patrol determines where to deploy its agents. That study, by the Government Accountability Office, should get underway in the weeks ahead.

I have relied heavily on the advice provided by the ranchers who live and work on the border. In regular conference calls with them, they have delivered a powerful message about the devastation that smugglers have brought to their land and way of life. Their ideas and insights have made a big difference and have helped me win support in Congress for legislation to strengthen border security.

The Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act is just such a piece of legislation. The overwhelming bipartisanship shown by my colleagues in supporting this bill is an indication of what can be achieved by standing together. And hopefully, it is a harbinger of continued progress on this crucial issue.

Gabrielle Giffords represented Arizona’s 8th Congressional District from 2007 to 2012, when she resigned to focus on her recovery after being wounded in the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings. She founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, along with husband Mark Kelly, to focus on preventing gun violence.

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Giffords spoke to the House of Representatives in support of the Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act on Sept. 23.

Youtube Video