Republicans on House Natural Resources Committee Complain About Northern Border Problems
Environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act are preventing the United States from properly securing its border with Canada and should be suspended, according to Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee.
While much attention with illegal immigrants, drug runners, and possibly terrorists entering the United States has been focused on the border with Mexico, the Republicans say the U.S.-Canada border also can be sieve-like due to environmental laws that prevent the Border Patrol from thoroughly monitoring the border region.
As the longest contiguous border in North America, more than 1,000 miles of the U.S.-Canada border are on federal land, the GOP said in a release the other day.
"In most places, it is delineated by no more than a ditch or clear-cut through a forest and touches 13 states (not including Alaska), 12 National Parks and 4 Indian reservations," the release added.
While environmental laws mean nothing to those trying to cross the border illegally, the Border Patrol is bound to obey them, the GOP said.
“The most basic function of the Department of Homeland Security is to protect the United States from threat against those who seek to disrupt the American way of life. Unfortunately, restrictive policies created and enforced by the Interior Department and federal land managers are preventing the U.S. Border Patrol from providing the maximum amount of security on some of our most vulnerable border areas located on federal lands," said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. "Until these policies are reversed, the safety and security of this country remain in jeopardy."
To buttress their call for reversing the regulations along the border, the Republicans cited a letter from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that explained how Border Patrol in the Spokane Sector was prohibited from using motorized vehicles to monitor the northern border due to endangered grizzly bears in the area:
“The sector is currently working with DOI and USFS regarding Endangered Species Act (ESA) issues related to Grizzly bear and road use on USFS managed lands. Government biologists claim agents in vehicles on some roads are detrimental to bears ... The USBP is most willing to work in a creative and careful manner, acknowledging their effectiveness along the northern border is not related to continual presence in an area, but to effective intelligence and good relationships with local communities. The sector, however, must occasionally have some motorized presence in those areas. A related and important issue is retaining access to critical areas. Where desired by the land managers, we encourage the closing of needed roads by gating rather than destruction of these valuable national assets. The sector must maintain the ability to respond via motor vehicle when required.”
A 2007 GAO report titled Security Vulnerabilities at Unmanned and Unmonitored U.S. Border Locations also noted the contradiction between environmental policies and proper border monitoring in the north:
“Although CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] is ultimately responsible for protecting federal lands adjacent to the border, CBP officials told GAO that certain legal, environmental, and cultural considerations limit options for enforcement—for example, environmental restrictions and tribal sovereignty rights.”
The national security threat from the north is real, according to the GOP, which cited the following:
* Abu Mezer, who was charged in 1997 with plotting to bomb the New York City Subway, had earlier been caught crossing the northern border through the North Cascades National Park in Washington state.
* In 2005, a 360-foot drug smuggling tunnel was discovered that stretched from Canada to Washington state. While not on federal land, this illustrates how drug smugglers are attempting to enter the U.S. from Canada.
The criminals entering the U.S. along northern border present distinctively different and in some cases more technologically advanced threats, the Republicans said. Most illegal border crossings on the U.S.-Mexico border are by foot, ATV or SUV; along the northern border, helicopters and small planes are a common means of entering and exiting the U.S. illegally, they added. Public lands are generally isolated and make ideal taking off and landing areas for criminals.
In 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent Jeffery Copp testified before the House Resources Committee:
“The National Forest and National Park lands that these organizations use provide multiple landing sites for helicopters, where discovery is difficult because of the remote, mountainous, and forested nature of the terrain.”
Due to the inability of the Interior Department and Agriculture Department to allow Border Patrol agents to have operational control of the border, House Republicans introduced legislation (H.R. 5016) to ensure that the agencies do not impede or restrict Border Patrol from effectively doing their to job to secure the both the southern and northern border on public lands.