Last August I was part of a bipartisan delegation that toured the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, to get a first-hand look at the challenges facing efforts to secure the border. My Homeland Security Committee colleagues and I noted some pressing needs. Border security is paramount. We must establish operational control of our borders and enforce the laws that are expected of a sovereign nation.

While at Laredo I was particularly disturbed and surprised to learn that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not have access to enough aviation assets to help them counter the influx of illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and other lawbreakers migrating across the Rio Grande. At a time when we also face a threat from terrorists who wish to infiltrate our country, this situation is totally unacceptable.

While our border security faces this lack of air support, the American homeland is already served by a skilled volunteer force of pilots, the Civil Air Patrol. CAP is the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force.

Founded at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Civil Air Patrol has provided an important service to the homeland. During the war they were a vital watchdog along the coastlines of America, protecting us from the threat of German U-boats that patrolled our shores.

Since then, Civil Air Patrol wings take to the skies in search and rescue operations and emergency response. They already play a role in our enhanced homeland security initiatives. The Pennsylvania wing of CAP, for example, provides security recon around the port of Philadelphia.

These dedicated pilots are a tremendous, largely untapped resource to help meet our border security needs.

That's why I am introducing the "Civil Air Patrol Homeland Security Support Act of 2007." This legislation would help our border security increase its aerial surveillance capabilities at by enlisting the aid of the Civil Air Patrol.

CAP will help out in two important kinds of homeland security missions. First, they can be deployed to protect against illegal entry, as well as against trafficking in goods, currency, people, and substances. Second, they can also be utilized in response to an act of terrorism or natural disaster by assisting in damage assessment, search and rescue, evacuations, and the transportation of essential materials.

CAP pilots are eager to participate in America's homeland security mission. The cost of flying and maintaining CAP aircraft is relatively inexpensive, the pilots are experienced, and the need for their assistance is great.

CAP has authorized a "Concept of Operations," which provides the mechanism for CAP assets to be used for missions not specifically directed by the Secretary of Defense. My legislation would formalize that arrangement between the Air Force and the Department of Homeland Security.

I believe that by bringing CAP into the homeland security equation, this legislation will help in our fight against illegal immigration and will become an integral part of our nation's strategy to maintain border security.