$1.6 billion for a wall? Let’s spend it on a sure thing instead: the Coast Guard
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Picture a scenario: American law enforcement has just chased down a large quantity of cocaine headed for distribution in the United States. They intercept the shipment, seize the drugs, and arrest the smugglers, disrupting yet another attempt to profit off of America’s struggle with addiction.

Are you picturing a group of Border Patrol agents pursuing smugglers over land? Likelihood is, you would be mistaken. Drug cartels usually choose the sea, and the only thing standing between the bad guys and the American people is the United States Coast Guard. In fact, last year the Coast Guard and its partner agencies – both foreign and domestic – interdicted more cocaine at sea than was seized at the U.S. land border and across the entire nation by all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies combined.


The Coast Guard intercepts hundreds of thousands of pounds of contraband and hundreds of undocumented migrants each year—usually on routes from South and Central America to Mexico, well before the cartels and smugglers even have a chance to cross our southern land border. On the average day, the Coast Guard seizes 1,214 pounds of cocaine and 144 pounds of marijuana, and also interdicts 17 undocumented migrants.

As the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, it is my job in Congress to ensure the Coast Guard has the resources, assets and personnel it needs to execute its vital dual roles as a military service and a maritime law enforcement organization.

The problem is, right now the Coast Guard does not have the resources it needs. During a hearing last week, I asked the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft, what the Coast Guard could do with additional funding, He told our committee that the Coast Guard is aware of about 80 percent of illicit maritime contraband, but can only put “steel on target” to interdict 20 percent of it. That’s a gap of 60 percent. Admiral Zukunft was blunt about why: The Coast Guard simply does not have the cutters, the aircraft and the resources it needs. Why would we spend $1.6 billion to build an ineffective stretch of wall when we could invest that money in the Coast Guard and virtually guarantee sharp reductions in the volume of illegal drugs that reach our streets?

And that’s not the only thing the Coast Guard could do with additional resources. The Arctic is a region of increasing economic, geopolitical, and military importance, especially as a warming climate opens up new seasonal waters for maritime traffic. Heavy icebreakers are essential to ensure safe passage for commercial ships, conduct search and rescue operations, and project American sovereignty in the region. Yet the United States is woefully unprepared to protect its interests in the High North. Presently, the Coast Guard only has one operational heavy icebreaker, and it is 40 years old. Russia, meanwhile, has a fleet of 40 icebreakers with plans for at least 11 more, some militarized. Our lack of a modern icebreaker fleet is a glaring national security liability; one that prevents our Navy from safely operating in the region, and which also leaves the vast expanse of Alaska’s North Slope and the strategic Bering Strait virtually unprotected. $1.6 billion would allow the Coast Guard to requisition at least two new heavy icebreakers to help fix this glaring deficiency.

Congress has a responsibility to appropriate money to advance American interests and to improve our national security, rather than fulfill an ill-advised campaign promise. A border wall will not do much to take drugs off our streets. Investing in the Coast Guard will.

Congressman John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiOvernight Defense: Aircraft carrier captain removed from duty after pleading for help with outbreak | Trump to expand use of defense law to build ventilators | Hospital ships receiving few patients Aircraft carrier captain removed from duty after pleading for help with coronavirus outbreak Biden rise calms Democratic jitters MORE (D-CA) is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.