His remarks came during a hearing of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight, investigation and management on U.S.-Caribbean border security threats.
Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) asked Fortuno about his discussions on the topic with President Obama and administration officials including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder.
“So my question to you is, what is the federal strategy for the Caribbean region?” he asked.
Fortuno said he had repeatedly asked the federal government for help since being elected governor in 2009.
“At this very moment, as far as we see it, our state law enforcement agencies are working very closely together with the local offices of those federal agencies,” he told the panel.
“But there is no strategy,” Fortuno continued. “At this very moment actually, that is exactly what we’re asking; that there be a strategy so that all the resources – existing resources – can be brought to bear to protect what we have called ‘America’s Caribbean border.’
“It affects American citizens residing both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but it also affects every American citizen in every city across America,” he said.
Describing it as a “national security issue,” Fortuno called for a “comprehensive, inter-agency strategy,” similar to those in place for border security and counter-narcotics efforts along the U.S. southwest and northern borders.
In his prepared testimony, the governor said that, according to local and federal law enforcement, an estimated 70 to 80 percent of Colombian cocaine reaching Puerto Rico is then transported to cities along the U.S. eastern seaboard, from Florida to New York.
In 2011, Puerto Rico had the highest number of murders in a single year in its history – 1,136 murders for a population of approximately 3.7 million people.
He compared those statistics to the situation in the southwest border state of Texas, which has 25 million residents and reported 1,246 homicides in 2010.
“This is not about funding a program,” Fortuno said. “This is about saving American lives.”
Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, who sits on the subcommittee, agreed that the federal government was not addressing the growing “crisis” in the U.S. territories.
“All of the statistics point to a single conclusion: While federal law enforcement officers perform courageous and often heroic work in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the federal government as a whole has yet to respond to the public safety crisis in these two American territories with the sense of urgency that the situation demands,” Pierluisi said.