Senators urge Homeland Security to tighten border

Key senators on Thursday said they want the Homeland Security Department to consider more aggressive tactics to try to stem the spread of swine flu, including the use of thermal imaging machines at border checkpoints to determine if a person entering the country has a fever. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., noted that some countries in Asia began using thermal imaging machines to screen travelers after the SARS outbreak in the late 1990s.

"Those are the types of things I think we have to think about," he said. "I'm not calling for the border to be closed. I understand the extraordinary economic dislocation that would result from that on both sides of the border, and probably personal dislocation as well."

House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., said he agrees with Lieberman. "I just don't think that we should rule anything in or out," he said. "It's hard for me to say if you're urging people to stay away from someone who has swine flu why it may not be appropriate at some time to say, to prevent people from coming from the country where swine flu originated. If Mexico is going to be stopping people from going to church and holding gatherings, it might make sense for us to minimize the contact as well."

Administration officials continued to say there is no compelling reason to close the U.S. border with Mexico, although Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she is open to closing individual ports of entry if needed.

"If the public health officials tell us there would be some utility in closing a particular port, obviously we'll take that action, but to date there's been no such advice," she said on MSNBC. Vice President Joe Biden called closing the border "a monumental undertaking" that would do little to stop a virus that already has spread into 15 states.

In related news, during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the door open to providing financial aid to Mexico and other countries affected by the outbreak. She said Mexico and other countries have already asked for help in getting access to drugs to combat the flu, and she said the United States has sent medical and technical experts to Mexico to help with diagnosis. But she signaled the administration is also considering financial assistance.

"I would like to get back to you with a specific request," Clinton told the panel. The administration has requested that $1.5 billion be added to the fiscal 2009 war supplemental spending bill to help the battle against the flu, a request that Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said he is sure Congress will approve.

Megan Scully contributed to this report.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
X CLOSE Don't show again

Like us on Facebook