The U.S. Border Patrol is being stymied in its efforts to protect the southern border by federal environmental regulations that leave an 800-mile opening.
reports that about 40 percent of the U.S. border with Mexico falls under Department of the Interior and Forest Service rules that prohibit the Border Patrol from driving there, creating roads, patrolling, installing surveillance devices, or building infrastructure.
The rules, designed to protect wildlife, also protect illegal immigrants and smugglers, Republicans say.
"There is no doubt that the restrictions on accessing land along the border have made it more difficult for the Border Patrol to do their job," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told The Hill. "It seems a common-sense reform to say that the Border Patrol should be able to fully access and patrol the border."
A House Republican working group recently released a dozen recommendations to deal with the border crisis, according to Business Insider,
including a recommendation for legislation that would "prohibit the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) from denying or restricting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) activities on federal land under their respective jurisdictions."
Cruz said smugglers are well aware of what parts of the border are not under Border Patrol surveillance because of environmental regulations and, therefore, use those sections to slip illegal immigrants into the United States.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, visited the border in McAllen, Texas, with Cruz, and The Hill reports she told an Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, "We're not asking for a major highway around there, but we need to think about national security issues, and how we enforce our own laws when you juxtapose that with other priorities within the federal agencies."
The conflict between environmental and security concerns has been around for a few years. In 2011, Rep. Rob Bishop,
R-Utah, proposed the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, which would ban Agriculture and Interior from interfering with Border Patrol activities on the border.
"We have basically rolled out the welcome mat for drug cartels on federal lands because environmental policies restrict the U.S. Border Patrol's ability to secure some of the most heavily trafficked areas of the southern border," Bishop said in a press release.
When President Barack Obama created the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument along the New Mexico border, he was criticized by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said it would "place additional burdens on Border Patrol personnel and limit access to high-crime areas along the border, making it easier for drug smugglers and human traffickers to move in and out of the country," The Hill reports.
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