Three House Republicans introduced legislation Tuesday that they say will prohibit the Interior Department from banning U.S. Border Patrol agents from policing federally-protected lands along the American-Mexican border.
The lawmakers, Reps. Rob Bishop, Pete King (R-NY) and Doc Hastings (R-WA), argue that the Interior Department is putting land preservation and environmental concerns ahead of security by denying border guards access to some of those lands.
“These areas have become a funnel for a lot of crime,” said King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.
“Politically-correct policies have put American citizens in harm,” said Bishop. “Homeland Security does not have the ability to move forward unless it meets the demands of the Forest Service.”
The lawmakers say that 40 percent of the land between San Diego and Texas is federally-protected. They suggest that not allowing border patrol agents access allows drug smugglers and even terrorists to illegally enter the U.S. through those points.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar toured the border areas last month for two days and met with multiple federal agencies in an effort to reach a compromise. His spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, described this as a “high priority for him.”
“There has been significant progress made on the border,” said Barkoff. “Secretary Salazar believes that we can meet the twin goals of protecting our national security and our natural resources.”
Barkoff said that agencies are trying to strategically locate border security infrastructure on federal lands while not harming the environment.
The issue isn’t new. In fact, Bishop says that border security officials have run into jurisdictional problems as far back as 2000.
“You can blame the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration,” said Bishop. All three lawmakers said they had grown tired of negotiations, which is why they crafted legislation.
“This isn’t between the United States and some foreign country,” said King.
Barkoff says that Salazar is asking senior staff to work with all agencies to both preserve the border and enhance security.
“There is much work to be done, however,” Barkoff said.