WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three bipartisan bills authored by U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) to enhance the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to detect and seize illegal drugs at the Northern and Southern Borders and counter human trafficking have advanced in the Senate. The bills would improve the screening of vehicles and cargo entering the United States, ensure that DHS is efficiently using existing resources and expanding available tools to stop the flow of deadly and illicit drugs into the country, and increase support for victims of human trafficking and law enforcement personnel who are responsible for investigating these crimes. All three pieces of legislation were approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, where Peters serves as Chair. They now move to the full Senate for consideration.
“State-of-the-art screening technologies have already proven they can detect drug and human smuggling and stop these crimes while they are happening. Deterring these illegal activities at ports of entry will save lives and ensure criminal organizations cannot continue exacting a devastating toll on Michiganders and people across the nation,” said Senator Peters. “These bipartisan bills will bolster our nation’s efforts to reduce the supply of poisonous drugs like fentanyl in our country, and provide increased resources and support to victims of human trafficking, as well as to the Homeland Security Investigations employees who work to bring them justice.”
The drug epidemic in the United States has reached an unprecedented level, with overdose deaths climbing to their highest levels—over 100,000 deaths within the 12-month period ending in April 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands of men, women, and children are trafficked in the United States. According to DHS, traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Non-intrusive inspection systems have enabled frontline U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officers to more quickly and effectively screen vehicles and large amounts of cargo to prevent illegal activities like human and drug smuggling, and ensure secure travel and trade at ports of entry. Congress provided CBP with $520 million for these systems in 2019 and has provided increased resources since then.
Peters’ Non-Intrusive Inspection Expansion Act will require CBP to use non-intrusive inspection systems to scan at least 40 percent of passenger vehicles and at least 90 percent of commercial vehicles entering the United States at land ports of entry in fiscal year 2024. The legislation directs CBP to brief Congressional committees on its fiscal year 2024 non-intrusive inspection scanning progress. In the event that CBP does not meet these scanning requirements in fiscal year 2024, the bill directs CBP to submit a report to Congressional committees on why it was unable to meet the requirements and its plan for ensuring compliance in the coming year. The legislation also emphasizes the need for CBP to work toward a 100 percent scanning rate at all land ports of entry.
Peters’ Enhancing DHS Drug Seizures Act requires DHS to develop a plan to strengthen public-private partnerships with the shipping, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. These partnerships will assist DHS with early detection and interdiction of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals. The bill also ensures that DHS is utilizing available resources to develop additional ways to test for fentanyl and other illicit drugs. The legislation requires DHS to study how they can improve efforts to collect and analyze data on illegal drug seizures. Finally, the bill enhances penalties for the drug traffickers who knowingly and willfully surveil, track, monitor, or transmit information about the location and movement of federal, state, or Tribal law enforcement officials or those who destroy border technology, such as sensors and cameras in order to smuggle drugs into the United States.
Peters’ IMPACTT Human Trafficking Act would make permanent the Investigators Maintain Purposeful Awareness to Combat Trafficking Trauma (IMPACTT) program within Homeland Security Investigations that provides outreach and training to investigators, forensic interviewers, victim assistance specialists, task force officers, and other partners who have been exposed to trauma while working with victims of human trafficking. The legislation would require Homeland Security Investigations to provide training, through the program, to these employees on available resources to help cope with burnout, compassion fatigue, and trauma. The bill also makes permanent and expands the Homeland Security Investigations Victim Assistance Program that provides guidance on victim assistance, including training and technical assistance, and monitors compliance with federal crime victim statutes. The bill increases the number of Victim Assistant Specialists to ensure every office participating in a human trafficking or child exploitation task force will have an assigned Victim Assistant Specialist. The legislation also ensures that victims are provided with referrals for support services throughout the investigative and prosecutorial process.