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Shocking Details on U.S. Border Policies

Guest Melissa Subbotin

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Guest Melissa Subbotin

Due to the continued crime and violence occurring along the Southern U.S. Border, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), along with eleven other House and Senate Members, commissioned the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the ongoing conflict between federal land management policies and border security. The results of the report reveal shocking details of how federal policies are preventing the U.S. Border Patrol’s access to some of the most crime-ridden areas of the U.S.-Mexico border located on federal lands. Click here to view the report.




“The severity of the crisis along the border cannot be underestimated. This report reveals shocking details that illustrate how U.S. so-called environmental policies are contributing to the ongoing crime and violence along the southern U.S.-Mexico border. These policies must be addressed and reevaluated to allow the U.S. Border Patrol access to the entire border region, including federal lands. Preventing the Border Patrol from conducting routine patrols on the most highly trafficked areas is irresponsible and in no way in the best interest of our country,” said Congressman Bishop.




The GAO report finds that U.S. policies are contributing to the ongoing crime and violence stemming from traffickers’ and smugglers’ virtually unmitigated access into the U.S. via federal lands. The U.S.’s own regulations and laws are preventing the U.S. Border Patrol from maintaining routine patrols on much of the federally owned and managed parts of the border where violence is most prevalent.




“The American people cannot figure out why the U.S. has yet to achieve full operational control of the border. An examination of this report will shed light on this exact fact. The U.S.’s own policies are a contributing factor to the rampant crime along the border, allowing criminal drug cartels and human smugglers to have virtually unmitigated access into the U.S. via federally managed lands,” Bishop added. “The Border Patrol has proven to be one of the most effective resources for prevention and apprehension of drug and human smugglers entering into the U.S., however, they must be given full access to all border areas in order for them to be most effective at their jobs.”




The draft report has been sent to the Agriculture, Homeland Security, and the Interior Departments for review and comment and is still subject to revision. Key excerpts of the report’s current findings are included below:


Page “What GAO Found”


Border Patrol must obtain permission from land managers to maintain roads and place surveillance equipment. 17 of 26 stations report that land management laws have caused delays and restrictions on agents’ patrolling and monitoring these lands. The 2006 Memorandum of Understanding has not solved problems of cooperation between agencies.




Page 11


Border Patrol must obtain permission from federal land managers before its agents undertake certain activities, such as maintaining roads and installing surveillance equipment.




Page 12-13


NEPA (Section 102) regulations dictate a potentially lengthy process, including public comments periods, before Border Patrol actions can be taken.




Page 20


17 of 26 Border Patrol stations report that when they attempt to gain permission to access Federal Lands, delays and restrictions have occurred as a result of complying with land management laws.




14 of these 17 stations report that they have been unable to obtain permission or permits due to how long it takes land managers to comply.




Page 21


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 7 mile range.




Page 22


On BLM lands in New Mexico it took six months to approve improvements to roads and move mobile equipment. Because various specialists are required (realty, biologists, archeologist) it can take months to coordinate schedules. One example from a station detailed that it took eight months to issue a permit for road improvements , in which time agents could not patrol or use surveillance equipment in a known trafficked area.




Page 23


Agents in California reported that it can take 6-9 months for permission to maintain roads, and sometimes to not get permission at all. Without permission, agents must find alternative routes, often times taking them further north to make apprehensions.




Page 25


More details on permission for mobile surveillance units…it can take a long time because “environmental and historic property assessments must be performed on each specific site, as well as on the road leading to the site.




Page 26


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.




Page 28


At Organ Pipe, the land manager determined that additional access would not benefit the protection of natural resources and denied Border Patrol plans for the Wilderness area. Specifically, Border Patrol requested a site for a SBInet tower, but was denied and was forced to move to State land. Consequently, a 3 mile area where aliens are known to cross will not be covered. Reportedly, the land manager denied the request, because in his opinion, Border Patrol “did not demonstrate to him that the proposed tower site was critical.”




Page 29


Details how a road improvement project was blocked in the Coronado National Forest because of an Endangered Plant.




Page 30


At Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, helicopter operations are limited if pronghorn antelopes are known to be in the area. At San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, a Border Patrol Supervisor must unlock a gate to enter to refuge if a determination is made that access is “critical.” The gates were installed to restrict vehicles in effort to protect the endangered Yaqui chub fish.




Page 32


When “patrol agents-in-charge” have requested resources to facilitate timelier access, senior Border Patrol officials have said that there are greater priorities.




Page 37


A Patrol Agent-in-charge would not even request assistance from senior Border Patrol officials to obtain permission for a critical East-West road in Organ Pipe because the land manager denied the initial request. This is a good example of how positive projects are being stymied at a local level by both the Border Patrol bureaucracy and land managers.




Page 44


When former DHS Secretary Chertoff exercised his waiver authority over environmental laws to build the fence, DHS voluntarily prepared environmental stewardship plans and sought to mitigate any resource damage.




Page 52 “Conclusions”


“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.”

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