EPA’s ‘Border Environmental’ Agreement Ignores Damage Done by Illegal Aliens

By Penny Starr | August 10, 2012 | 4:51pm EDT

Trash on federal land in Roskruge-Recortado Mountains of Arizona. (Photo from Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Dept. of Interior)

(CNSNews.com) – Illegal aliens left an estimated 1,000 tons of trash while crossing the Arizona border into the United States  last year, according to state officials.

According to federal government estimates, illegals each year leave more than 500 tons of trash and more than 100 abandoned vehicles at just one national wildlife refuge along the Arizona border.

But that kind of environmental impact is not mentioned in a new U.S. agreement with Mexico on border environmental issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Aug. 8 that it had signed an agreement with Mexico to address “high priority border environmental issues.”

Those issues, according to the agreement, include reducing air pollution, improving access to clean air and water, and to “enhance compliance assurance and environmental stewardship” on both sides of the border.

But the 43-page document, “Border 2020: U.S-Mexico Environmental Program,” does not include any language about the ongoing impact to federal lands in the United States caused by human and drug trafficking and other illegal activities of Mexican drug cartels and other people who are illegally entering the country.

The agreement states that “protecting the health and the environment in the border region is essential to ensuring that the U.S. continues to be safe, healthy and economically productive,” but does not address the environmental and safety threat posed in the border region by illegal immigration and other crimes.

In Arizona, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, the trashing of the southern border area by illegals has become a “huge problem,” according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

In 2011 alone, illegal border crossers left an estimated 1,000 tons of trash at Arizona border areas, ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer told CNSNews.com.

According to the latest statistics from the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection, 340,252 people were apprehended for entering the United States illegally in Fiscal Year 2011. Included in that number were 327,577 apprehended along the southwest border -- 129,188 of whom were apprehended in Arizona's Tucson and Yuma sectors, which together constitute the state’s border with Mexico. (nationwide stats.pdfsouthwest border stats-1.pdf)

The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), meanwhile, says “illegal border activities” along the U.S.-Mexico border constitute “a threat to both public health and safety.

In a report to the House Committee on Natural Resources published in December 2010, the GAO said the extent of environmental damage done and the threat to public safety caused by “illegal border activity” was “substantial.”

“Law enforcement officials told us that some remote federal lands along the U.S. border are often used to smuggle drugs or humans into the country,” the report states. “According to these officials, such illegal activities can damage sensitive wildlife habitat and threaten public safety."

In Arizona, tons of trash constituted just one form of “environmental damage” caused by illegals, according to the GAO.

“Officials at every unit we visited in Arizona reported substantial natural resource damage from illegal border activity,” the report said.

The GAO singled out the environmental damage caused at one national wildlife refuge that serves as a staging area for illegal entry.

“In 2006, for example, the Refuge Manager of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge testified before the House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies of the Committee on Appropriations that an estimated 235,000 people entered the United States illegally across refuge lands in 2005,” the report said.

“He reported that illegal border crossers had disturbed wildlife and created more than 1,300 miles of illegal trails, causing the loss of vegetation and severe erosion,” the GAO said.

“He also estimated that each year illegal border crossers leave more than 500 tons of trash and more than 100 abandoned vehicles on the refuge.”

The report noted that “illegal border crossers have started wildland fires, either by accident (e.g., from a cooking fire that escaped) or on purpose (e.g., to divert law enforcement resources away from certain areas).”

Several endangered species also are under attack from illegal crossings, the GAO said.

“Officials at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge [Arizona] told us that illegal border activity was damaging sensitive desert ecosystems -- including habitat for several threatened or endangered species, such as the masked bobwhite quail and Sonoran pronghorn -- although the officials were unable to quantify the effects of illegal activity on these populations,” the report states.

The GAO also said that the illegal activities are a threat to public safety.

“According to law enforcement officials at the units we visited, the public and agency employees can also be victims of violence, including assault, rape, and homicide, on federal lands. Although land management officials stressed that this kind of violence remains rare, several units we visited reported some violent incidents,” the report noted.

When CNSNews.com asked the EPA why the issues of environmental damage and the health and public safety threat to citizens caused by drug and human trafficking is not addressed in the agreement, an EPA spokesperson said only that the information in the GAO report was “outside the jurisdiction of EPA and the Border 2020 Program.”

The new agreement replaces the Border 2012 agreement, which ends this year, according to the EPA.

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