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Jim Costa: Keeping America safe is the priority. That involves more than just a wall

People record with their phones in front of the border wall Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, along the beach in Tijuana, Mexico. Taking the shutdown fight to the Mexican border, U.S. President Donald Trump edged closer Thursday to declaring a national emergency in an extraordinary end run around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall.
People record with their phones in front of the border wall Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, along the beach in Tijuana, Mexico. Taking the shutdown fight to the Mexican border, U.S. President Donald Trump edged closer Thursday to declaring a national emergency in an extraordinary end run around Congress to fund his long-promised border wall. AP file

Editor’s note: The Bee invited Fresno-area congressmen to share their views on President Trump’s push to get $5 billion to build a border wall. Democrats Jim Costa and TJ Cox took up the offer. Republican Devin Nunes did not respond.

Most of us agree that our nation needs effective border security, which takes more than building a wall.

Over my congressional career — through three presidents from both parties — I have continually voted to improve border security, including authorizing construction of physical barriers where appropriate.

Last year, Congress provided $1.6 billion for improved border security, yet the administration has been slow to spend it. Last week, we voted to continue that funding into this year.

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Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno. JOHN WALKER Fresno Bee file

President Trump has chosen to go a different way. Rather than work with Congress where we agree, he has decided to close the government until we devote billions of dollars to some type of wall. The president has made it clear: He wants the American people — not Mexico — to pay for it.

It just doesn’t make sense.

If we really care about stopping drug smugglers, human traffickers and terrorists from entering the United States, we need to listen to law enforcement, our international partners and affected communities. I’ve visited the border with my Congressional Hispanic Caucus colleagues, discussed the situation with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and met with senior immigration enforcement officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. I have spoken with advocates, families, law enforcement, workers and employers.

I am committed to keeping America safe.

It is irresponsible to shut down the government and hold workers hostage for a political matter — building the wall — the majority of Americans do not support.

Yet, the president just keeps digging, putting federal workers into financial hardship and harming our nation’s economy.

Furthermore, the president is putting us in danger with the shutdown.

The overwhelming majority of illicit activities occur at ports of entry and at sea. A wall will not prevent these activities.

By shutting down the government, the president is making border security more difficult and has stopped paying key law enforcement personnel, including Customs and Border Protection officers, federal prosecutors, immigration judges, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and members of the Coast Guard. Within the United States, Homeland Security Investigations Agents — who investigate human trafficking, drug smuggling, and transnational criminal gangs — are working without pay. The Department of Justice has stopped processing discretionary grants that support state and local law enforcement.

The president and I have different approaches for improving public safety and strengthening border security. I believe we need thoughtful, fair, and comprehensive immigration reform. We need modernized visa programs, pathways to citizenship for those already here, and updated enforcement policies that are efficient and effective.

We also need to address the humanitarian situation at our border. Families and individuals fleeing atrocities are seeking refuge in our country. We’ve seen children separated from their families and die in our custody. The U.S. must work with our neighbors and international partners to help alleviate this crisis and build opportunities for people in their home countries.

Regardless of the approach, we must put the safety and health of the American people first.

On Dec. 18th, the Senate passed a bipartisan agreement to keep the government open that was acceptable to both chambers of Congress and the president, an agreement that did not include explicit funding for a wall. The next day, the president changed his mind.

While we work through our differences on border security, we must reopen government. In the past two weeks, I have voted to open government agencies six times. I will continue to do my job, working to keep our communities safe and government operating so it can serve the American people. At the same time, I will continue to not accept my salary until we reopen government.

Fresno Democrat Jim Costa represents the 16th District in the House of Representatives. The district covers parts of Fresno and Madera counties and all of Merced County.

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