July 9, 2003 – Invoking the specter of the Virgin Islands as a potential "Caribbean Pearl Harbor," Sen. Lorraine Berry has told the top undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that she needs federal assurances of clout and cash to develop local initiatives to complement the mandates of the federal agency.
With 175 miles of "porous borders," the territory particularly needs help to establish a federal Border Patrol unit, Berry told Michael Brown, first under secretary for emergency preparedness and response, in a letter dated July 8 and released to the media Wednesday.
Berry, writing as chair of the Legislature's new Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, said the Border Patrol presence is needed to "stem the deluge of illegal aliens" and "illegal narcotics transshipment." And federal funds are needed to pay for "detaining, repatriating and/or relocating illegal aliens," she said.
She is drafting enabling legislation to create a V.I. Office of Homeland Security, she said. "Last week, the Homeland Security Council was operationalized locally," she told Brown, "but as you are quite aware, this council can only be a forerunner to a state administrative agency that single-mindedly pursues homeland security."
Although responsibility for defending the nation's maritime borders, airspace and territorial integrity fall under the purview of the federal government, Berry wrote, "some territorial capacity is necessary." She said the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, the Law Enforcement Planning Commission and the adjutant general of the V.I. National Guard (as the designated "person in charge") are seeking to implement programs to comply with federal mandates.
However, she added, "without a massive infusion of federal resources, training and political support, the territory does not have the capacity to fulfill the federal mandates.
"Certainly, federal oversight is in order."
Citing naval base closings at Roosevelt Roads and on Vieques in Puerto Rico, Berry also called for creation of a U.S. Coast Guard unit to patrol the waters of the Northeastern Caribbean.
She said she is aware that Puerto Rico "is ahead of us in terms of organization and funding," but asked for "equitable treatment in funding, political support and organizational linkages."
The Virgin Islands' "geographical realities force us to request greater attention from the Department of Homeland Security," she wrote. "We do not wish to witness a Caribbean Pearl Harbor due to underestimation of the threats by federal and territorial officials."
Requesting Brown's "intervention as a facilitator" in establishing the V.I. Office of Homeland Security, Berry extended a second invitation to him to visit the territory, going so far as to suggest anytime in August but particularly the 14th to 18th.
She announced in March that Brown had accepted her earlier invitation to make such a visit April 14-15. Subsequently, the United States launched the war against Iraq and that visit was put on hold.
Two weeks ago, a release from the office of Delegate Donna M. Christensen stated that Christensen had recently invited Brown, a lawyer who previously was deputy director and general counsel of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to visit the territory "in the near future."
Berry included Christensen as well as Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in extending her new invitation, saying they all "need the political support of a federal official whose very presence would confer legitimacy and seriousness." At the same time, she said, a visit from Brown would allow the V.I. officials "to familiarize you with our various institutional needs."
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