APRIL 18, 2011
For the third time in a few months a federal report exposes how the U.S. government prioritizes environmental preservation over national security by keeping Border Patrol agents out of wildlife refuges that are heavily transited by Mexican drug and human smugglers.Among them is a popular smugglers’ corridor, the 2,300-acre San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, used by an illegal immigrant who murdered an Arizona rancher last spring. For years, Border Patrol agents have been prohibited by the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service from actively patrolling such areas because it threatens natural resources.Motorized vehicles, road construction and the installation of surveillance structures required to adequately secure the vast areas are forbidden because it could endanger the environment and its wildlife. In the meantime, Mexican drug cartels and human smugglers regularly use the sprawling, unmanned and federally protected land to enter the U.S. The areas have become the path of choice for illicit operations that endanger American lives and, ironically, cause severe environmental damage.Adding insult to injury, Interior officials charge the Department of Homeland Security millions of dollars for conducting preapproved Border Patrol operations on its land. Since 2007, Homeland Security has paid the Interior Department more than $9 million to mitigate the “environmental damage” of protecting the border.Despite two recent congressional reports (check them out here and here) documenting the obstacles Border Patrol officers face in these dangerous areas, little has been done to remedy the situation and improve security. An overwhelming majority of Border Patrol agents told congressional investigators that “land management laws” continue to limit their access to federal lands along the treacherous southwestern border.The federal officers surveyed most recently by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, say they continue to encounter “delays and restrictions in their patrolling and monitoring operations” on federally protected lands. In one enraging case, land managers took more than four months to conduct the required “historic property assessment” before granting the Border Patrol permission to move surveillance equipment.The situation is so dire that a group of lawmakers have introduced legislation to prohibit any federal agency—especially the Department of the Interior—from using environmental regulations to hinder the Border Patrol from securing the area. The measure would essentially ensure that Border Patrol, not federal land managers, have operational control of the nation’s borders.
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