Yesterday, the Obama Administration released its new Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy. This strategy leaves out a glaring issue plaguing border enforcement: Without full access to border lands for the Border Patrol, no amount of manpower, weapons, or other technology will help get control of the border.
One of the problems facing Border Patrol agents is that federal land managers have prevented them access to natural resource lands. This is no small chunk of the border either, equaling 20.7 million acres. With that much acreage left grossly under-secured, these lands are becoming like an open playground for smugglers/traffickers of drugs, cash, humans, and a whole host of illicit items.
Such lack of coordination between federal agencies is silly. It will not come as a surprise that no drug trafficker, criminal, or illegal migrant is going to give a hoot whether he is violating a U.S. environmental regulation or trampling on an endangered species while illegally crossing the U.S. border.
In fact, more ironically, there have been numerous videos—including this one from the Center for Immigration Studies—that have shown just how much environmental damage and destruction illegal entrants have done to the border environment, from large amounts of trash and even human waste to disrupting the habitat of all kinds of species.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to give the Border Patrol full access so that lands are environmentally preserved and that Americans can safely enjoy them? Instead, without action, the Obama Administration is enticing lawbreakers to make these lands the next big corridor for smuggling. The House Natural Resources Committee has emphasized that “national parks and forests have become some of the most dangerous and violent areas along the border where shootings, robberies, rapes, murders, kidnappings, and car-jackings frequently occur.” In fact, I recently wrote a Backgrounder along with my colleagues Ray Walser and Jessica Zuckerman that discusses the terrible consequences of an unsecured border.
Today, there is a joint hearing between the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and the Subcommittee on Security, Homeland Defense, and Foreign Operations. Several members have introduced a bill entitled the National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act, which would “prohibit the Department of Interior (DOI) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from using environmental regulations to hinder U.S. Border Patrol from securing [the] border on federal lands.”
Getting serious about drug trafficking and controlling the border requires better interagency cooperation than what is currently at work. If the Obama Administration is serious about getting control of the border, it should take a hard look at this problem.