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25 Apr
Border Patrol report shocks many Americans
WILD LIFE AND PLANTS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE SECURITY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

For the third time in only a few months, a federal report on Friday exposed how the U.S. government prioritizes environmental preservation over national security by keeping Border Patrol agents out of wildlife refuges that are heavily transited by Mexican drug and human smugglers.

“For years, Border Patrol agents have been prohibited by the Interior Department and the U.S. Forest Service from actively patrolling such areas because it threatens natural resources,” Tom Fitton, president of the public-interest watchdog Judicial Watch, following the release of the GAO report on Friday.

MEXICAN DRUG CARTEL SOLDIERS

“Motorized vehicles, road construction and the installation of surveillance structures required to adequately secure the vast areas are forbidden because it could endanger the environment and its wildlife. In the meantime, Mexican drug cartels and human smugglers regularly use the sprawling, unmanned and federally protected land to enter the U.S. The areas have become the path of choice for illicit operations that endanger American lives and, ironically, cause severe environmental damage,” said Fitton.

The Law Enforcement Examiner obtained copies of the original reports — GAO-11-38 and GAO-11-117 — and discovered that environmental concerns took precedence over law enforcement and public safety concerns.

According to the GAO report released Friday, 40 percent of Southwest border lands are managed by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, and coordination and cooperation between Border Patrol and land management agencies is critical to ensure national security.

The Government Accountability office summarized its findings from two previous reports regarding the U.S.-Mexico border in the fall of 2010. The first report, GAO-11-38, focused on the key land management laws that Border Patrol must comply with and how these laws affect the agency’s operations. The second report, GAO-11-177, focused on the extent to which Border Patrol and land management agencies’ law enforcement units share threat information and communications.

When operating on federal lands, Border Patrol must comply with the requirements of several federal land management laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, Wilderness Act, and Endangered Species Act. Border Patrol agents must obtain permission or a permit from federal land management agencies before agents can undertake operations, such as maintaining roads and installing surveillance equipment, on federal lands.

To fulfill these requirements, Border Patrol generally coordinates with land management agencies through national and local inter agency agreements. The most comprehensive agreement is a 2006 memorandum of understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, and the Interior that is intended to guide Border Patrol activities on federal lands. Border Patrol’s access to some federal lands along the southwestern border has been limited because of certain land management laws, according to 17 of 26 patrol agents-in-charge that GAO analysts interviewed.

For example, these patrol agents-in-charge reported that implementation of these laws had resulted in delays and restrictions in their patrolling and monitoring operations. Specifically, 14 patrol agents-in-charge reported that they had been unable to obtain a permit or permission to access certain areas in a timely manner because of the time it takes for land managers to conduct required environmental and historic property assessments. The 2006 memorandum of understanding directs the agencies to cooperate and complete, in an expedited manner, all compliance required by applicable federal laws, but such cooperation has not always occurred.

For example, when Border Patrol requested permission to move surveillance equipment, it took the land manager more than 4 months to conduct the required historic property assessment and grant permission, but by then illegal traffic had shifted to other areas.

Despite two congressional reports documenting the obstacles Border Patrol officers face in these dangerous areas, little has been done to remedy the situation and improve security. An overwhelming majority of Border Patrol agents told congressional investigators that “land management laws” continue to limit their access to federal lands along the treacherous southwestern border.

Information sharing and communication among the agencies have increased in recent years, but critical gaps remain in implementing inter agency agreements. Agencies established forums and liaisons to exchange information; however, in the Tucson sector, agencies did not coordinate to ensure that federal land law enforcement officials had access to threat information and compatible secure radio communications for daily operations.

The situation is so dire that a group of lawmakers have introduced legislation to prohibit any federal agency — especially the Department of the Interior — from using environmental regulations to hinder the Border Patrol from securing the area. The measure would essentially ensure that Border Patrol, not federal land managers, have operational control of the nation’s borders.

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