Bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC-03) and Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) to investigate the activities of Hezbollah in North America passed the House of Representatives this afternoon.
“I am pleased that my colleagues have joined me and Congressman Duncan to recognize the significance of the threat Hezbollah poses to the Western Hemisphere,” said Congressman Higgins. “The current assessment that Hezbollah is simply fundraising in North America is hardly reassuring. We must remain attentive and take the necessary precautions to keep our communities safe.”
H.R. 3783, the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act, would require the State Department to assess Iran’s presence in the Western Hemisphere and develop a long-term strategic plan to confront the threat.
In July of this year, Congressman Higgins convened a field hearing in Buffalo of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence along with Subcommittee Chairman Pat Meehan (PA-07) and Subcommittee Member Congresswoman Kathy Hochul (NY-26) to hear from local officials on cross-border security issues, including the threat of Hezbollah.
Congressman Higgins spoke on the House Floor in support of this legislation. A video and the text of his remarks is below:
Thank you. Firstly I want to thank, for his leadership and his friendship on this issue, Jeff Duncan, for his hard work on this. This is a very important bill that, obviously, enjoys bipartisan support.
I rise in support of H.R. 3783, the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act.
This important legislation is of particular interest to Western New York. And it addresses a pressing national security concern for the United States.
Mr. Speaker, Hezbollah, otherwise known as the party of God in Arabic, is a militant Shia organization committed to violent jihad. It is based in Lebanon but serves as a proxy for Iran, Syria, and Venezuela.
During hearings in the House Committee on Homeland Security we heard expert testimony linking Hezbollah to criminal activity throughout the Western Hemisphere.
We learned that there are roughly 80 Hezbollah operatives in the 15 nation region of Latin America, and that it is involved in the South American drug trade and in radicalization efforts in Mexico.
We also learned that Hezbollah has an active presence in 4 cities in Canada and 15 cities in the United States.
I questioned the witnesses about Hezbollah’s activity in North America. I asked, “If Hezbollah is not targeting the United States, what are they doing here?”
The response was that these activities were not significant because they are largely limited to fundraising.
Mr. Speaker I don’t see the distinction between terrorist activity and fundraising for terrorist activity.
If Hezbollah — and by proxy Iran — are using safe havens in and around the United States, we must have a strategy to address it.
As I said, this is of particular concern to Western New York because one of the communities in which Hezbollah has a presence is Toronto, which is 90 miles north of Buffalo.
The Buffalo-Niagara region is within 500 miles of 55% of the United States population and 62% of the Canadian population. Our Peace Bridge is the busiest border crossing between the United States and Canada. Our Niagara Power Project is the largest energy producer in New York State.
And the Department of Homeland Security, citing budgetary constraints, just dropped our preparedness funding.
You can understand if we don’t feel comfortable with Hezbollah 90 miles away for those who live in Buffalo.
Mr. Speaker, this bill would address the threat Hezbollah poses to communities like mine.
It requires the State Department to conduct a thorough assessment of the threats we face and to develop a strategy, in coordination with our allies and partners in the region, to address Hezbollah’s growing presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.
Again, I want to thank my colleague, Jeff Duncan, for his work on this issue and his leadership on this issue and I want to thank Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen and Ranking Member Berman for their support.
I urge passage of this bill and I yield back the balance of my time.
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