By: Barbara Hollingsworth
A draft Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has confirmed what The Examiner has been reporting since February: federal land managers are actively preventing the Border Patrol from sealing the southern border with Mexico. Worse, this nearly decade-old feud between Homeland Security and Interior Department officials is undermining the core mission of both departments.
“The severity of the crisis along the border cannot be underestimated,” says Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who joined other members of Congress to commission the GAO report. “This report reveals shocking details that illustrate how so-called environmental policies are contributing to the ongoing crime and violence along the southern U.S.-Mexico border.”
Although the report is highly critical of Interior officials, it also points the finger at BP officials who refuse to press the issue. “Positive projects are being stymied at a local level by both the Border Patrol bureaucracy and land managers,” GAO found.
Instead of working together, these two departments remain at cross purposes.
“Certain land management laws present some challenges to Border Patrol’s operations on federal lands – limiting, to varying degrees, the agency’s access to patrol and monitor some areas. With limited access for patrols and monitoring, some illegal entries may go undetected. This challenge can be exacerbated as illegal traffic shifts to areas where Border Patrol has previously not needed, or requested, access,” the report concluded.
Border Patrol must first obtain permission from Interior land managers before they are allowed to maintain roads and place surveillance equipment on federal wilderness areas. Despite a 2006 Memorandum of Understanding between the two departments, the permission process is fraught with six-to-nine-month delays and restrictions – even in areas that are widely used by traffickers and smugglers.
“Seventeen of 26 stations report that land management laws have caused delays and restrictions on agents’ patrolling and monitoring these lands,” the GAO reports. So despite the fact that the Border Patrol has nearly doubled the number of agents during the past five years and spent $1.6 billion on its Secure Border Initiative, the southwestern border is at its most unprotected precisely where it is under federal management.
Interior will not even let BP operate mobile surveillance vehicles, much less install underground cameras, sensors and other technology. “At Organ Pipe National Monument it took four months to approve moving a ‘mobile’ surveillance unit, in which time the traffic shifted to another place, and during which time Border Patrol was unable to observe a seven-mile range,” GAO auditors found.
The irony is that by preventing BP from doing its job, Interior is not doing its job either.
“At Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, AZ, Wilderness Act restrictions have limited the extent to which Border Patrol agents can use vehicles for patrols and technology resources to detect border crossers. Nearly 8,000 miles of trails created by undocumented aliens throughout the refuge have been identified by refuge staff. Border Patrol believes if they had a east-west road they could make arrests closer to the border instead of throughout the refuge, thereby benefiting the environment,” the GAO report noted.
This ridiculous state of affairs effectively gives Interior’s environmental regulations a higher priority than Homeland Security’s mission to keep terrorists, human traffickers, foreign criminals and drug smugglers out of the country. Without operational control of the border, DHS cannot prevent these and other undesirable invaders from entering the U.S. at will – or from trashing the same wilderness areas Interior is trying to protect.