(CNSNews.com) – Legislation recently introduced by House Republicans would “prohibit the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture from taking action on public lands which impede border security on such lands."
The bill’s supporters believe that, if it is passed, the bill will allow the U.S. Border Patrol to secure the southern border without the assistance of the National Guard.
During an April 14 press conference, Republican sponsors of the bill indicated that the Interior Department's interference with the Border Patrol’s congressionally mandated operations had opened the 20.7 million acres of public land along the southern border to illicit activity, which is often associated with illegal immigration.
“We are introducing this bill today simply because the Department of Interior and, to a lesser extent, the Forest Service, have failed to protect American citizens,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), ranking member of the House Public Lands subcommittee who is sponsoring the legislation.
“Unfortunately, the land managers that are down there on the (southern) border have placed the wilderness characteristics of the land and protection of existing or potential endangered species as their number one criteria, and because of that, the border patrol has been impeded from doing their job,” said Bishop.
The congressman further said, “(W)e have huge and gigantic holes in the border through which most of the illegal drugs coming into this country are coming, through which human trafficking and all the violence, especially against women, are taking place … and the potential of terrorists coming into this country coming through the holes that are, that are caused simply because of the land management policies this nation has on all the federal lands that are down there ….”
Bishop also remarked on the violence against American citizens that has occurred apparently as a result of conflict between the Interior Department and border agents.
Last month, Rob Krentz, a 58-year-old Arizona rancher, was shot and killed on his own property by an alleged illegal immigrant drug smuggler who entered the United States by crossing federal land.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (R-Ariz.), who serves the southern part of Arizona, has written to President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, requesting that National Guard soldiers be sent to the area. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has echoed these requests.
Of the 20.7 million acres of federal land covered by the Republican bill, 4.3 million acres are designated as “wilderness areas.”
In a prepared statement, the sponsors of the legislation said that “according to internal memos, DOI officials have asserted that the Wilderness Act of 1964 trumps border security legislation passed by Congress.”
According to the 1964 federal Wilderness Act, “wilderness” land is broadly defined as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The “wilderness area” designation prohibits Border Patrol agents from using motorized vehicles, building roads, or installing monitoring devices in these areas, which essentially makes them inaccessible to agents.
The strict enforcement of these regulations has failed to preserve the lands as originally intended. Pictures displayed at the press conference showed that much of the “wilderness areas” had been trashed by illegal immigrants using these trails to cover their entry into the United States.
CNSNews.com asked Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) during the press conference if he thought it was necessary to use the National Guard to secure sections of the entire southern border. The congressman responded “no,” adding “I believe Border Patrol, if they’re given the operational powers they need they can secure the border.”
“If we do complete the barriers along the border,” King said, “if this is primarily a federal responsibility – and I believe that the border patrol can secure operational control of the borders if it’s allowed to do its job – and as far as the use of National Guard, if governors believe it’s appropriate, I certainly would support that.
“So allow the Border Security to do what they are trained to do,” Bishop told CNSNews.com. “Right now they are prohibited and impeded in doing their jobs. That’s what we’re asking in this particular bill, they can handle it or at least give them the chance to fail, but let, let them have at what they’ve been trained to do.”
A transcript of the exchange between CNSNews.com and King and Bishop follows below:
CNSNews.com: “Do you think it’s necessary to utilize the National Guard to secure all border lands along the U.S./Mexican border?”
Rep. King: “I don’t think we have to have the National Guard. I think that if governors in particular states want to use the National Guard and they want federal that’s certainly appropriate. But I believe Border Patrol, if they’re given the operational powers they need, they can secure the border. If we do complete the, the barriers along the border, if – this is primarily a federal responsibility, and I believe that the border patrol can secure operational control of the borders, if it’s allowed to do its job – and as far as the use of National Guard if governors believe it’s appropriate I certainly would support that.”
Rep. Bishop: “Let me come back here, that’s, once again, that’s the point of the bill. Border security can do their job. They’re doing a marvelous job in the urban areas along the border. But that’s why the drug traffickers are now going to these rural areas that are controlled by the Department of Interior and the Forest Service. So allow the Border Security to do what they are trained to do. Right now they are prohibited and impeded in doing their jobs. That’s what we’re asking in this particular bill, they can handle it or at least give them the chance to fail, but let, let them have at what they’ve been trained to do.”