‘Border security’ bill threatens public landsThe House-passed bill gives the Border Patrol free rein in parks, forests and wilderness areas. Do the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws hurt security along the U.S. border?
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
The House-passed bill gives the Border Patrol free rein in parks, forests and wilderness areas.
Do the Wilderness Act and other environmental laws hurt security along the U.S. border?
No, concluded the Government Accounting Office, after investigating the question in 2010. Twenty-two of the Border Patrol’s 26 agents-in-charge “reported that the overall security status of their jurisdiction is not affected by land management laws,” the office reported.
No, agreed the Border Patrol’s deputy chief, in testimony to a House subcommittee last year. The Border Patrol’s existing agreements with other federal agencies already work well, he said. Besides, “border security and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive.”
No, testified the Agriculture Department — home of the U.S. Forest Service — and the Interior Department, which oversees the national parks.
And no, says the hard evidence of illegal crossings from Mexico, which have dwindled dramatically. Thanks in part to more agents, longer fences and other factors, “the largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill,” the Pew Research Center concluded earlier this year.
“After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants — most of whom came illegally — the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed.”
So, how did the U.S. House respond to this information?
Simple: By ignoring it.
If Mitt Romney is looking for a “Sister Souljah moment” — an issue on which to take a stand against a strong faction within his party — he should consider opposing the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, which passed the House in June and now is before the Senate. (Sixteen Democrats — including Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. — joined 216 Republicans, including Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., in voting for the bill).
The act empowers U.S. Customs and Border Protection as a kind of environmental super agency, one that could ignore America’s most important conservation laws. The Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Park Service and National Wildlife Refuge System acts — for Customs and Border Protection in the course of its work, these no longer would apply.
Instead, the agency could — without consulting Congress, the president, the public or anyone else — build roads and fences, patrol in aircraft and SUVs, set up surveillance towers and even establish forward operating bases on federal lands within 100 miles of the border.
Those lands very much include national parks, national forests and wilderness areas. And not just along the Mexican border, either: The act gives the agency this authority within a 100-mile-wide strip along the Canadian border, as well.
That would include the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; Voyageurs National Park; Glacer National Park; Olympic National Park; the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park ...
Essentially, “the U.S. House voted to give operational control of all of America’s public lands (along the border) to one agency: U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” the Pew Environment Group declared.
John Leshy, the Interior Department’s top lawyer during the Clinton administration, painted an even darker picture. The act is “the most breathtakingly extreme legislative proposal of its kind I have ever seen,” he said in testimony last year.
By vesting such power in one agency, the proposal would detonate “the legal equivalent of a nuclear weapon, altogether wiping out many decades of carefully constructed and balanced laws” and insulating that agency from effective control, Leshy said.
To repeat, U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not ask for this power. Just the opposite: Agency officials oppose the measure and say it’s simply not needed.
They have a point, as Midwesterners certainly know. Canada’s border with North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin runs 860 miles. And in all of 2008, only 78 people were caught crossing that stretch of border illegally.
There’s no emergency that warrants letting federal agents ignore environmental laws. The Senate should reject the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act. The House shouldn’t have passed it in the first place.
And Romney should consider opposing it, as well. At this point, it wouldn’t hurt and might very well help the candidate if he promised careful stewardship over America’s public lands.